Under any circumstances, these would be remarkable firings. But the timing is significant: This weekend, Roman Catholic bishops gathered in Rome to kick off their synod on so-called family issues, the continuation of a meeting that began last fall. Among the subjects possibly on the docket: the Church’s posture toward gay Catholics.
In his statement about Charamsa, Lombardi claimed “the decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the Synod … aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure.” Charamsa denied this, according to the AP, although he said he hopes his announcement will bring “a Christian voice” to the synod. In Rome, pro- and anti-gay groups have already been jostling for attention, trying to influence the tone at the gathering.
But within the Church, there’s fairly deep theological opposition to homosexuality—or, to be more exact, to having an active sexual relationship with a person of the same gender. Pope Francis is sometimes hailed as a “progressive” for dropping lines like “Who am I to judge?” in reference to a possibly gay priest, yet he has been vocal in his opposition to gay relationships and support of traditional marriage.
For example: “I ask myself if the so-called gender theory is not, at the same time, an expression of frustration and resignation which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it,” Francis said in April 2015. “We risk taking a step backwards. The removal of difference in fact creates a problem, not a solution.”
The “so-called gender theory”—this is an opaque and telling phrase. There’s a core philosophical question at stake in the Church’s conversations about homosexuality: Why are people gay? Presumably, Francis is referring to theories about gender that try to tease apart the connection between humans’ biological parts and their sexual desires and identities. He does not accept this way of thinking; his view, and the view of the Church, is that gender and sexuality are determined by God. The Church teaches, as Francis put it, that “God entrusted the earth to the alliance between man and woman: Its failure deprives the earth of warmth and darkens the sky of hope.”
Thus far in the synod, conservative bishops have been vocal and firm about issues like traditional marriage. Cardinal Péter Erdo, who is in charge of guiding the work of the synod, said in his opening address on Monday that “there is no basis for comparing or making analogies, even remotely, between homosexual unions and God’s plan for matrimony and the family.” Last fall, a group of progressive prelates pushed the synod to embrace a more accepting posture toward gay Catholics, releasing a controversial letter midway through the first assembly outlining how the Church must change. Erdo’s message seems to be pushback against this approach. And this time, it will matter who wins: Last fall’s meeting was just discussion, but this fall’s meeting may actually lead to doctrinal change.