Shunned by the synod, Church's gay wing flourishes in a vacant store
A ground-floor space in Madrid's Chueca neighbourhood is home to the Christian Homosexuals of Madrid association
Chema wanted to be a priest, and spent five years in a seminary. He left before ordination, discouraged by the fate of fellow aspirants who, on declaring their homosexuality, were shown the door. "There were people who didn't say it, in order to be ordained," he explains. But he wanted to be a priest without having to renounce what he was: a homosexual and a believer. So he quit, rather than be fired.
His is not the only vocation thus lost to the Church. After prayers on Thursday afternoon, a group of young men gather in a ground-floor store space in Madrid's Chueca neighborhood, identified by a sign outside as Crismhom: Christian Homosexuals of Madrid. When it began in 2006 only four people attended the prayer session, but last Thursday there were 40: ex-seminarists, engineers, teachers and a few heterosexuals.
Javier, the president, says that a few elderly local women seldom miss a session. The door is open to everyone.
"I don't believe there is just a single reality within the Church," says Javier, quick to point out that they, "like all believers," do form part of the Catholic Church. In a way, they even consider themselves pastors. "There are people who return to the Church thanks to Crismhom. If we don't evangelize in this group, no one else will."
So far they have reached some 110 sympathizers, each with his story. In the case of Iván, who also spent a year in a seminary, two Marianist brothers were decisive in his acceptance of his own homosexuality. He was 19 and confused. A friar told him to look into himself, and that what he found there would be good. Shortly afterward a priest said: "Some day the Church will accept this; meanwhile I accept it already."
Whatever the Vatican may say, at Crismhom they maintain that a part of the Church is struggling for its own space. "I feel freer as a Christian among gays, than as a gay among Christians," says Iván.
Javier had no real problems when he told "everyone in the parish I grew up in" that he was gay. But now he spends more time in Crismhom, and the transition from parish to the gay-friendly neighborhood of Chueca has been easy. Here he met Chema; since then they have been partners. Although they maintain that no one comes to the group "just to pick up," relationships often begin. "Here you meet people who want more than just to spend a night with someone. Out there it is often difficult to find a partner," says Chema.
As for women, interest so far has been zero. "We'd like to see some," says Javier. However, the existence of the place is thanks to a woman, "and to God's blessing." The female owner of the building, in Barbieri street, wanted to "raise the spirituality of the neighborhood," and after meeting the group offered them, at a token rent, this shop space - which "she could have rented to a bar for a lot of money." The explanation for such generosity, they consider, can only come from above.