On Saturday evening, as hundreds of bishops convened in Rome for a major church assembly on family issues, former Vatican priest Krzysztof Charamsa headed a mile across town to a different gathering: the founding meeting of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, a group of 13 organizations advocating for inclusion of gays in the church.
Charamsa had lost his job just before, when he was fired from his position in the Vatican’s doctrine office after announcing that he was gay and introducing reporters to his boyfriend.
“I want the Church and my community to know who I am: a gay priest who is happy, and proud of his identity,” he told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in an interview published Saturday. “I’m prepared to pay the consequences, but it’s time the Church opened its eyes, and realized that offering gay believers total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman.”
The priest’s announcement came just 24 hours before the start of Pope Francis’s month-long synod on the family, which will discuss marriage, divorce and same-sex relationships.
Vatican officials bristled at the timing of Charamsa’s announcement, which spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi called “very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure.”
But the eyes of the media and the world likely would have been on the meeting anyway, since news emerged last week that the pope spoke with both Kentucky clerk Kim Davis (who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage license to same-sex couples) and a gay former student and his partner during his visit to the U.S. Observers within and outside the church have exhaustively dissected the details of those meetings in search of clues as to Francis’s plans for the synod. Would the man who said “who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests two years ago reinforce current doctrine, or loosen the rules?
At the opening of the synod Sunday, Francis seemed to reaffirm the church’s position on same-sex couples, speaking of the “true meaning of the couple and of human sexuality in God’s plan,” according to Reuters.
“This is God’s dream for his beloved creation: to see it fulfilled in the loving union between a man and a woman, rejoicing in their shared journey, fruitful in their mutual gift of self,” he also said.
But he also called for the church to reach out to Catholics who struggle to adhere to doctrine: “A church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission, and, instead of being a bridge, becomes a roadblock.”
Charamsa, a monsignor from Poland who worked as a mid-level official in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, according to the Associated Press, told reporters that the timing of his announcement wasn’t related to the snyod, though he aimed to add “a Christian voice” to the discussion.
“I came out. This is a very personal, difficult and tough decision in the Catholic Church’s homophobic world,” Charamsa said at a press conference in a Roman restaurant Saturday.
Still, in his interview with Corriere della Sera, Charamsa acknowledged he hopes that the church will move to become more inclusive of gay Catholics.
“I hope that my personal experience will help stir the church’s consciousness in some way,” he said. “… A lesbian or gay couple should be able to openly say to their Church: ‘we love each other according to our nature, and offer this gift of our love to others.'”
According to the statement from Lombardi, Charamsa “will certainly be unable” to continue in his positions at the Vatican’s doctrine office and a professor at two pontifical universities in Rome.
It is up to his diocesan superiors to determine whether Charamsa will be allowed to remain a priest. Catholic priests take vows of celibacy when they are ordained, regardless of sexual orientation. And in 2005, the Vatican issued new guidelines reaffirming that openly gay men cannot become priests. According to the BBC, the policy “treats homosexuality as a ‘tendency,’ not an orientation, and says those who have overcome it can begin training to take holy orders” after three years.
Charamsa, 43, has been living in Rome for the past 17 years, according to Corriere della Sera. He said that he initially refused to admit to himself that he was gay, in accordance with Catholic doctrine. By 2005, when the new guidelines on gay priests were issued, he was more accepting of his own sexuality, and the rules came as a “shock,” he said.
Charamsa didn’t say when he met the man he introduced as his boyfriend, who was identified only as Eduard, according to the AP. But hours of study, prayer and reflection, as well as his relationship with Eduard, led him to decide to come out, even though it would mean losing his position in the Vatican and possibly his position in the priesthood as well.
“There comes a day when something inside you snaps, and you can’t go on. If I had been alone I would have lived the nightmare of a denied homosexuality, but God never leaves us alone,” he told Corriere della Sera.
But, he added later, “I’m not doing this so that I can live with my partner. The reasons are much wider-ranging and based on a reflection on church doctrine.”