Father Charamsa is back: Washington Post covers (kind of) gay debates about his photo op

Anyone who has covered Catholic news for the past couple of decades knows that, when fights begin among Catholics about doctrines linked to homosexuality, there are three essential groups of LGBT Catholics involved that reporters need to quote.

(1) Gay Catholics who are openly calling for change in church teachings, saying (usually) that the Holy Spirit is now moving to correct 2,000 years of flawed Christian doctrines.

(2) Gay Catholics who -- often because they are in key academic or ecclesiastical posts -- are quietly working behind the scenes to change church doctrines slowly over time. It's kind of the "you do what you can do" approach. Critics would call it the "stay in your church closet" approach.

(3) Gay Catholics who support Catholic doctrines on marriage and sex, including teachings on same-sex acts, even though that is a painful reminder of the sinful, fallen nature of all of God's creation (or words to that effect). Many want the church to do a much better job of listening to the real, pastoral concerns of all kinds of Catholics who struggle with sexuality issues.

This brings us to the latest news, care of The Washington Post, about the life and times of the Rev. Krzysztof Charamsa -- otherwise known as the Polish priest (he has been ordered to cease acting as a priest, but not defrocked) with a boyfriend who came out in a photo op right before the 2015 Synod of Bishops on marriage and family issues. It added extra sizzle that he worked in the very powerful Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The headline on this new Post report promises a deep dive behind the scenes of the post-Charamsa dramas: "Not all gay Catholics are pleased about how Vatican priest came out of the closet." Did the Post deliver on that? Hold that thought.

If you look at the three-part typology I started with, it's pretty easy to understand some of the sourcing challenges the Post team faced on this story.

That Camp 1 is DEFINED by the fact that it is made up of gay Catholic activists, and their supporters, who are willing to go on the record and call for a revised, modernized Catechism. These activists are going to talk. In this case, the Post openly states that held two days worth of interviews with Charamsa.

Meanwhile, Camp 2 is defined by the fact that these Catholic leaders have to work in secret. Readers can expect lots of second-hand material from this group, in a story that is working with this thesis statement:

Charamsa’s move brought the expected denunciations from the church and religious conservatives, who pointed out that he had violated his vow of chastity and the church’s teachings on homosexuality. More surprisingly, his actions have also sparked a split among gay Catholics.
The church officially teaches that homosexual desires are not sinful unless acted upon and calls on gays and lesbians to live lives of chastity. It teaches that gays are deserving of human dignity. But it also describes homosexual acts as a sin that is “intrinsically disordered” and a “grave depravity.”
As Pope Francis opens the door to more inclusion of gay people, Charamsa’s coming out -- and the reactions to it -- cuts to the heart of a debate raging among gay Catholics worldwide: Should they use gentle dialogue or open confrontation in pushing for change?

In other words, the big news is that there are tensions between gay Catholics in Camps 1 and 2. That is hardly big news. What would be news is if there were major new voices in Camp 2 -- the behind-the-scenes voices for doctrinal change -- who openly made a case for their go-it-slow approach.

In other words, this story seems to suggest that the ongoing tensions about strategies for Catholic doctrinal change on sexuality have, in this case, broken out into the public square. However, that does not appear to be the case. Instead, readers get this from Camp 2:

Yet at a time when they can almost smell what they call the sweet scent of change, some gay Catholics counter that Charamsa’s “theatrical” coming out may have done more harm than good. It could, they say, embolden church hard-liners and have a chilling effect on the slowly thawing relations between gay people and the Catholic Church.

Who are the people in the "they say" camp? As it turns out, they are Catholic gay activists who, while working in public, believe that it would have been better for Charamsa to have played it a bit cooler with the "theatrics." By jumping the gun, he hurt the cause. 

So who is missing from this story about these ongoing debates? As a reader noted, in a private email, about this Post story:

Despite a promising introduction, including managing to get Church teaching right, it goes full lovefest by halfway through. What, after all, is the "sweet smell of change?"

And, rather than compare faithful gay Catholics to dissident gay Catholics, it assumes all gay Catholics are dissidents on Church teaching. Big fail.

You heard that right.

Surprise! The Post story never pauses to hear the voices of gay Catholics who support the church's doctrines on sexuality -- not even the openly gay Catholic intellectuals who have written about their beliefs online and in books and, well, are even based in Washington, D.C.

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