BARCELONA, Spain — The Vatican kicked him out and his diocese fired him, but Krzysztof Charamsa says his faith is not shaken. If anything, he says he's a better priest for coming out — and it's time for the Church to wake up.
With Catholic bishops set to release a report on issues of family, Charamsa spoke to NBC News about how he lost his.
The life he'd built evaporated when Charamsa stood before television cameras on Oct. 3 alongside his boyfriend and announced he was gay. The Vatican called the declaration "very serious and irresponsible," dismissing Charamsa from his work there and from his teaching roles.
To Charamsa, that meant losing everything while gaining something new: total freedom.
"I am a gay priest and I am happy to say that I am a gay priest," he said. "I lost my work in the Vatican, in university, but I think I found my courage, my liberty, my dignity."
Courage, he said, is exactly what the Church is lacking — a realization he came to after years of secretly studying scientific journals and textbooks about sexuality while working in the heart of the Vatican.
His intellectual approach brought him to the conclusion that the Church position on sexuality is based on outdated ideas rather than reality, Charamsa said.
“We have 50 years of human research about sexuality," Charamsa told NBC News in an interview in Barcelona. "We have certitude in many points, but the Church does nothing.”
He likened staying in the closet to a psychological and spiritual prison. Yes, his coming out was public — but it enabled him to live with love and truth as the Church teaches.
"Today, I am a better priest," he said. "The paradox is that today, I cannot exercise my being a priest."
The Vatican statement suspending him from his post in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith — an important administrative body charged with promulgating church doctrine — was issued the day Charamsa came out.
The reaction — expected but swift — still stung.
"For a person who believes, for a person who sacrificed life for this church, it’s a horrible experience," he said. "It’s like your mother lost her mind, and begins to act against you … persecute you."
Charamsa's coming out came at a critical time for the Catholic Church, which has been wracked by sex-abuse scandals while seemingly rejuvenated by widespread adoration for Pope Francis.
Francis's apparent openness to dialogue has inspired many, including Charamsa, who thinks the time is ripe for a Catholic conversation on sexuality.
"Pope Francis is a gift of God for the Church," he said. "With this pontificate, Catholics feel that we must..begin to speak to one another."
The Vatican, though, took issue with his timing. It said that "the decision to make such a pointed statement" on the eve of the synod's opening was irresponsible because it would subject the bishops' gathering to "undue media pressure."
But when would be a good time, asked Charamsa. During the synod? After?
"Coming out is a personal decision ... No one can say what is a better time," he told NBC News.
He insisted his decision was not a slight against the Church — "I love my church. I sacrificed my life for my church" — but a Christian decision, part protest and part plea.
"I needed to say to my church, to reveal ‘I am gay and I am not sorry,’ and please you — my church, my community — must seriously think about persons like me," he said. "We have many good, fantastic homosexual persons — also lesbians — in religious life."
He noted that the synod — which ends Sunday — is focused on family, perhaps ironic given that the Church was his and has cast him out.
"Who is to say that the family of my lesbian friends with two children is wrong, or is not good?" he added.
As the synod was meeting this week, Charamsa's home diocese in Poland suspended him from the priesthood, denying him the right to wear priestly vestments. The diocese told The Associated Press that Charamsa could regain his priesthood if he “embraced the true teaching of the Church and Christ’s priesthood.”
To Charamsa, though, the Church's teachings call for the rights of all people to be defended — including gays.
"This is a problem not of homosexuals. This is a problem of the Church," he said. "I am not an exception in this church. I am not an exception. I am one of many, many others."
He said he still believes that the Church can be a "reasonable institution," open to discussion. It just needs to "wake up."
"I am a priest, but I am gay priest … And I wait for serious respect," he said. "Serious respect doesn’t mean closing the door and going away."
In the meantime, Charasma said he is at peace with his decision.
Coming out “has not affected my happiness,” he told NBC News. “Well, I do have one problem… I must find a job.”