I was thrilled when I read of Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, who is causing worldwide controversy after he came out in Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper. Charasma, 43, told the paper that he was gay and had a partner during an interview published on Saturday. It might seem a tad odd that this would please me, but reading about it, and its universal impact, and the fact the news was in all the papers and all over the internet, but the news of Krzysztof Charamsa declarations brought me right back to my own time in the Catholic Church. I was a Capuchin Franciscan friar between the years of 1983 to 1989. I was a postulant in their Friary on Dublin st. Carlow (1 year), a Novice (1 year) in Kilkenny, and four years in Church Street in Dublin. The monastery in Church street is now luxury apartments and has transformed into something both reminiscent of the past (my room was directly over the main door) and yet something entirely different to its glory days. After about eight months in another Friary, I exited the Order already developing the atheism that has remained with me ever since. It was a real moment of liberation. There are few things that will more successfully, completely and absolutely reduce a persons belief system to nought than an extended period absorbing Catholic Theology and studying the Bible. After six years and a long period of soul searching I had reached the conclusion that I was wrong about the church, that I didn’t believe, that it was an illusion, and it made no sense whatever. Thank heavens for James Joyce and Arthur Schopenhauer! (But thats another story for another day.)
During my time ‘inside’, I also encountered a number of gay men, both within the Order itself and in the various colleges I attended during my years of studies. Some were friends, and at times good friends of mine. Some were not at all. It was rather extraordinary to be, sometimes at the oddest and most inappropriate of times, propositioned by them. I thought it was flattering, but as I was not gay I felt no inclination to take matters any further. I also took my vow of celibacy seriously, sometimes to my great frustration I must admit, as I fell in love a couple of times back then. All in all it was a world in denial of the reality of homosexuality in the church and the order. It was a world where gay men were deeply secretive about their sexual identity, which is not too healthy, and no doubt caused them tremendous pain over time. This was because they were living inside an institution that demanded they remain celibate while disapproving and condemning their very inner natures by their teaching. It seemed outrageous then, and it remains so now, that any group or institution should demand such a deep curtailment of a fundamental right like free self expression. It angered me so much that it led me to very deliberately choose a gay man as the lead Character in my first novel which was set in a fictitious Order in the Church. I was just so angry at all the denial and the homophobia back then. I invited as many of my old friends from the order to the book launch. It had been so long since I seen them. Sadly, none came. It had been fifteen years since I left the order by then. They had read the novel by then (Well, I hope so, as I had given some of them copies). Perhaps something of its subject matter upset them, I don’t know. But it was strange I lost such complete contact with them after that book came out.
So, in conclusion, lets hope the good Monsignor’s extraordinary bravery causes the revolution needed in the Catholic Church. My gut feeling? He will be silenced as all innovation is silenced in that oppressive institution, and he will leave the priesthood, and marry his partner. All in all he did the right thing: Krzysztof gave up hiding for love and for truth and for freedom. An awesome, life-giving, life-affirming thing to do.