Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Sunday 4 October 2015

Krysztof Charamsa: The Gay Monseigneur and the Catholic Conversation on Family Values

It’s been ten months since I regularly wrote this blog and so much has happened in that time, I hardly know where to begin to catch up.

I’m fascinated by politics, and I was going to begin there, particularly since I didn’t cover the election or the rise of Jeremy Corbyn: both fascinating subjects. The death of Denis Healey also piqued my interest since I began to be interested in politics at around the time his eyebrows were a regular feature in the news.

I will return to all of those subjects over the days and weeks that follow, because it’s a good bet that politics are going to remain very interesting and increasingly adversarial over the next couple of years, not least with Brexit on the horizon.

This is what the Independent reported
But it’s Sunday today, and I have a new hero. I’m not going to pretend, even this early in the piece that I’m not a little ambivalent about what he chose to do or how he chose to do it; nevertheless, I have a new hero this week, and I thought today might be the day to talk about him, because it’s Sunday.

I had not heard of Krysztof Charamsa until this week, and there was no reason why I should have. I am not a Roman Catholic. I generally do not partake of organised religion. Creed and doctrine are difficult for me, although morality and spirituality are not, and personal responsibility is an ideal that is very close to my heart.

Until very recently, Krysztof Charamsa was a very high-ranking member of the Roman Catholic church. He was a Monseigneur with responsibilities for Roman Catholic doctrine. He consulted within the church on the fundamental rules laid down for followers of the faith throughout the World.  And that’s a big deal… That’s a very big deal.

This week the Pope leads a three week long Synod; cardinals and bishops will gather from around the World to talk about family issues, and the Synod will include a discussion on sexuality.

On the eve of the synod, Monseigneur Charamsa came out as gay. He was immediately relieved of his title and of his duties with regard to Roman Catholic doctrine by the church that he has served for his entire career, and, possibly, since his profession is also his vocation, for his entire life.

Mr Charamsa is Polish and he was, until he was sacked, a high-ranking Roman Catholic priest. He was not defrocked entirely, but his fate and his position in the church remains undecided and therefore uncertain. There are still places in the World and communities in which it is complicated to be gay and dangerous to share that status. Mr Charamsa stood up in front of the World’s press and declared that he was gay, that he was happy to be gay, and that it was his belief that, in his case, it was God’s will that he be gay.

Mr Charamsa is learned in Roman Catholic doctrine, in the laws handed down by God to his people, and he believes that it is God’s will that he is gay! I’m not sure I can iterate that statement strongly enough.

Mr Charamsa, as Monseigneur Charamsa was trusted by the Roman Catholic Church to consult on doctrine. He is the same man today that he was yesterday, last week or last year. His education and his knowledge are the same today as they were before he came out as gay. He was educated by the Roman Catholic Church and he has studied its doctrine; that has been his life. This is what he knows. When his status was unknown, or, at least, unacknowledged, his education and knowledge were trusted. Now, they are not.

Monseigneur Charamsa knew what he was doing, of course, when he stood before the World’s press and made his announcement. He understands the politics of the Vatican. He also knew that Pope Francis met with a gay former student and his partner during his visit to the United States of America last week. Pope Francis has also been reported as saying:

If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?

Mr Charamsa chose his moment, and he might have expected a less hostile outcome. He might have expected a more sympathetic hearing from the Pope who has been called the most liberal head of the Roman Catholic Church in history. Of course, he might simply have been spoiling for a fight.

My own feeling is that if the Roman Catholic Church really wanted to have a discussion about sexuality, even privately among its own higher echelons, who better to lead it than a gay Monseigneur learned in doctrine? And if the Roman Catholic Church really wanted to embrace its congregation and reassure it that the establishment was doing everything possible to be more inclusive, wouldn’t involving Monseigneur Charasma in that conversation have been an extraordinary first step?

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who will be at the Synod says,

Same sex relationships and same sex partnerships seeing themselves as a parallel or as an equivalent to a marriage and a family based on a man and a woman is not an equivalence that the church is ever going to recognise.

EVER is a very long time, but I can’t help thinking that this man was sent out by the Vatican to firefight. Surely, he is their current mouthpiece.

I said at the beginning of this piece that I wasn’t going to pretend I wasn’t a little ambivalent about my new hero, about what he chose to do and how he chose to do it. After quoting Cardinal Nichols, I might just have changed my mind.

Krysztof Charamsa had every right to stand in front of the World’s press and come out as gay, and he had every right to question Roman Catholic doctrine, more right than most, since he has actually made an in-depth study of it. My single concern is that Mr Charamsa chose to make his statement with his partner at his side, because he is in a relationship.

I have always thought that it is anathema for Roman Catholic Priests to be celibate, to be unmarried, and to live without families. It’s anathema to me, because the job of the priest is to minister to his congregation, and it seems to me that to do so he must understand the people he is ministering to and the vast range of circumstances they must find themselves in - circumstances the he is denied the chance ever to experience if he is never allowed to love romantically or paternally.

It would appear that, unlike his fellow priests, (and heaven help me, I know there are exceptions, both relatively innocent and appallingly exploitive), Mr Charamsa is not celibate. He has broken the rules. My support for him wavers only very slightly in this one regard. I believe that his impact on the press and on the Synod would have been greater if he had worked within the system, that he has diluted his own argument, and, while I absolutely do not deny him the right to love, I rather wish he’d played by the rules.

Mr Charamsa said the following,

It's time the Church opened its eyes and realised that offering gay believers total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman.

And he’s right, of course. But given his own status, might he not also have said,

It’s time the Church opened its eyes and realised that offering priests total abstinence from a life of love is inhuman.

I guess that’s simply an argument for another day.


  1. Twice in one week, you're awesome Nik!

  2. And the point (as you say) is very much more about the general requirement of abstinence for priests than it is about the particular sexuality of Charamsa. I won't pretend that his being gay isn't *an* issue for the church, but more pertinent to his role is the fact that he has clearly conducted a relationship for several years, in direct contradiction to the rules of the vocation he chose.

    If one of those 'purity is chastity' guys/gals from the US is found to have been merrily shagging away the world jumps on the hypocrisy. A Catholic Priest, who by definition has to have been tacitly condoning the views of the church re: sexuality, especially in regards to homosexuals, is no less of a hypocrite, yet will be taken to the bosom of the vocal liberals because his hypocrisy serves their own agenda.

    Personally, I disagree with the requirements for Catholic priests to remain celibate, as do many modern catholics. They are under no illusions - the ruling was made by the church to stop it being responsible for the welfare of the spouse and children of Priests when they passed away. Certainly, Jesus never said that in order to be a priest, one had to be celibate. I also strongly oppose the view of anyone who seeks to tell homosexuals (or pansexuals or asexuals etc) that they are somehow 'lesser' or to be excluded by virtue of their sexuality - something which is, at the end of the day, the concern of nobody but them and their sexual partners. The Church (as in the Vatican and its myriad machineries) needs to be reminded that it exists to serve the church (the masses of the faithful) and NOT the other way around. Sadly, I doubt that time is on its way anytime soon. Francis differs from Benedict mostly in that he has a vastly superior PR team. He holds much the same views on homosexuality, birth control, gay marriage and abortion as his predecessor. He's just a friendlier face and an easier sell than Benedict was. The revolution, alas, is not quite here yet for the Catholics. And speaking as someone married to a lifelong catholic who has become increasingly disillusioned and marginalised by her church in recent years, I would suggest that they are sowing the seeds of their own destruction.

    1. Isn't the point of a vocation that it chooses you, and not that you choose it? Smiles.

      I think we're more-or-less on the same page on this one.

      You might also notice that I always use Roman Catholic, because the Church of England is also Catholic, although no one ever seems to acknowledge or remember that. The semantics on this one might be complicated, but I'm sticking with the distinction. Smiles. I've seen Anglicans and Romans crossing that divide so many times. Smiles.