German Catholic Priests Defy Rome to Offer Blessings to Gay Couples

More than 100 Roman Catholic parishes in Germany held services to bless gay couples, in defiance of the Vatican’s refusal to recognize same-sex unions.

The Rev. Wolfgang Rothe blesses Christine Walter and Almut Muenster during a service at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church on Sunday in Munich.

By

More than 100 Roman Catholic parishes in Germany offered blessings to gay couples on Monday in defiance of church teaching and their own bishops.

The call for nationwide blessings came in response to a decree issued by the Vatican on March 15, reinforcing the church’s prohibition of priests asking for God’s benevolence for gay couples, stating that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

A group of 16 German priests and volunteers organized a petition that within days collected more than 2,000 signatures. Encouraged by the response, they decided to take their action one step further and declare May 10 — chosen because of its association with Noah, who in the Bible is recognized by God with a rainbow, a symbol that has more recently been adopted by the L.G.B.T.Q. community — as a day to hold blessing ceremonies for any and all couples, but especially those in same-sex unions.

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship,” the group said in a statement. “We will not refuse a blessing ceremony.”

The Vatican had no comment on Monday, but the head of the conference of Roman Catholic bishops in Germany, Georg Bätzing, who is also the bishop of Limburg, rejected using public blessing ceremonies as what he called “instruments for symbolic actions on church policy or for protests.”

“It is part of the pastoral ministry of the church to treat all of these people fairly in their respective concrete situations on their life’s journey and to accompany them pastorally,” Bishop Bätzing said in a statement, speaking for the country’s bishops. “In this context, however, I do not consider public actions such as those planned for 10 May to be helpful or a way forward.”

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, because that is God’s plan for the creation of life. Church doctrine says that while gay people must be treated with dignity, homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” Pope Francis has not changed this teaching, but has occasionally raised the hopes of gay Catholics by speaking of the need to love and welcome gay and transgender people.

The German church is among the most powerful and liberal in the world, and Roman Catholics everywhere were watching the response to the blessings for signals of how the church might respond to attempts at reform from those in the pews and from the priests who are often among those most active in finding ways to include gay men and lesbians in the church.

“There has been this incredible discussion in Germany about same-sex couples specifically that has not taken place anywhere else,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, which represents gay and lesbian Catholics in the United States. “No other group has done something like that.”

A few German parishes held blessing services on Sunday and dozens more took place Monday, many of them in churches in the heavily Roman Catholic western regions of the country, home to many of Germany’s most liberal Catholics. Some were streamed live, while others offered virtual blessings over social media, “whenever and wherever you want.”

By contrast, only a few parishes in the heavily Roman Catholic southern state of Bavaria, the more deeply conservative region where Pope Benedict XVI grew up, held services.

Churches that were not offering ceremonies were encouraged to fly a rainbow flag or other banners recognizing and celebrating love in all of its forms as worthy of God’s graces.

The Rev. Bernd Mönkebüscher, pastor in the Church of St. Agnes in the western town of Hamm and one of the initiators of the campaign, said that every Valentine’s Day, his parish holds blessings for all couples, including those from same-sex unions and those who remarried after a divorce.

“We held a blessing service this Valentine’s Day, but it was important to us in view of this story from Rome to send a clear signal that the church must recognize, honor and appreciate life in all of its many colors,” said Father Mönkebüscher, who identifies as gay. “It is an important gesture toward those people who the church for years, if not decades, has viewed as second-class citizens.”

At least 30 couples had registered to take part in the ceremony in his parish on Monday, he said, adding that the number of participants was limited because of restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “We are fully booked out,” he said.

During the ceremony, Father Mönkebüscher walked around the nave, approaching couples who sat in pairs, socially distanced and masked. They rose as he placed a hand on their shoulders and spoke a blessing as they bowed their heads. After one lesbian couple had received their blessing, they dropped their masks and shared a kiss, wiping away tears.

Not everyone has been receptive of the initiative. One parish in Bavaria received threats from members of an arch-conservative Roman Catholic group and had to call the police to ensure the safety of participants at their ceremony.

The initiative is the latest strain between the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in Germany. Many parishioners in Germany have left the church, including those frustrated with what they see as an outdated approach to sexual morality and a failure to punish priests accused of abusing children.

According to official statistics, 272,771 people formally quit the Church in 2019, a record number that helped to galvanize efforts among the bishops to discuss with the church a series of issues they believe were contributing to the loss of members. Among them were the role of women in the church, its teachings on sexual morality, priestly celibacy and clerical power structures.

In 2019, they began a series of talks on these topics, discussions of which would be off-limits for the church in many other countries. The talks were to take place among the faithful and church leaders over the course of two years but were extended because of restrictions on gatherings that were introduced last year at the outbreak of the pandemic. They are now to continue into February 2022.

Among those leaving the Church in Germany are many same-sex couples, who are tired of feeling they are not accepted for who they are, said the Rev. Reinhard Kleinewiese, who held a blessing at the Church of St. Mary in the western town of Ahlen on Sunday evening. Ten couples attend, all of them heterosexuals.

“We can’t ignore the fact that a lot of homosexual couples have already left the church. There are many who don’t come anymore,” Father Kleinewiese said. “Nevertheless, it is good and important for this situation and beyond that we make clear that we are not in agreement with Rome on certain issues and prohibitions.”

Complete Article HERE!

German Catholic Priests Defy Pope Francis with Public Blessings of Same-Sex Couples

Priests across Germany will publicly bless same-sex partnerships on Monday, May 10

By Ashley Boucher

A group of German Catholic priests will publicly bless same-sex couples across the country on Monday in defiance of the Vatican’s decree in March that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex marriages.

“In view of the refusal of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to bless homosexual partnerships, we raise our voices and say: We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship,” the statement says. “We do not refuse a blessing ceremony. We do this in our responsibility as pastors, who promise people at important moments in their lives the blessings that God alone gives. We respect and value their love, and we also believe that God’s blessings are on them.”

Pope Francis leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad
Pope Francis leaves the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) in Baghdad

“Theological arguments and knowledge gained are sufficiently exchanged,” the statement continues. “We do not accept that an exclusive and outdated sexual morality is carried out on the back of people and undermines our work in pastoral care.”

The priests have also organized several church services, including live-streamed blessings of same-sex couples, to take place on May 10 across the country.

One of the organizers, Klaus Nelissen, told the Wall Street Journal that a Monday was chosen because that is traditionally a priest’s day off: “No bishop can tell them not to do it, since they are doing it on their own time,” he said.

The correlating events on Monday are making public what has been a quiet defiance over the last several years.

“It always has been a little bit kind of a secret,” Rev. Christian Olding told the Wall Street Journal of German priests’ blessings of same-sex couples. “This is the first time that we are going this way in society, to do it visibly for everyone.”

In March, the Vatican said in a statement approved by Pope Francis that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions because God “does not and cannot bless sin.”

While the community should welcome gay people with “respect and sensitivity,” their unions would not receive the same embrace, as under Catholic teachings, marriages as per “God’s plan” should be between a man and a woman to create new life, said the statement, which was a formal response to a question regarding the Church’s power to bless same-sex marriages.

“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage, as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” the statement said.

In October, he said he would support a civil union law, saying in a documentary that gay people are “children of God and have a right to a family.” And he famously said in 2013: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Complete Article HERE!

So what went wrong in Rome over same-sex blessings?

An analysis by Christopher Lamb following Bishop Johan Bonny’s comments at The Tablet webinar.

by Christopher Lamb

The high cost of the Vatican’s ruling against same-sex blessings has been laid out in stark terms by the Bishop of Antwerp. During a discussion with The Tablet, Bishop Johan Bonny explained that in his diocese large numbers of young people had cancelled their baptismal registrations because of the ruling. Across the traditionally Catholic heartlands of Belgium’s Flemish dioceses, he believed the number who have disaffiliated from the Church stands at around 2,000. Similar findings are likely to be found in other places.

So what might be done to retrieve the flock who are leaving? During the 28 April webinar hosted by The Tablet, Bishop Bonny and a panel of theologians explored how the Church could include and recognise same-sex couples and LGBT Catholics. Yet this question goes deeper than whether or not it is possible to bless gay unions. Instead, it raises profoundly important ecclesiological issues including how to live the “Catholicity” of the Church differently.

Three areas of discussion are emerging as crucial to the debate.

First, is the process the church adopts when making decisions on contentious topics. It is now crucial for time and space to be given for discernment rather than Rome panicking and issuing premature judgements. This is where synodality, which Pope Francis wants to see at every level of the Church, comes in.

Some voices argue that synodal processes such as the one in Germany will result in “schism” because it will lead local churches into divergent stances on questions of sexuality or that challenge official teaching. But Bishop Bonny, who once worked at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, pointed out the threat to unity is in the other direction.

“You cannot have real unity or communion unless local churches can find the best solutions for their problems,” he said during the webinar. “There are basic lines, that’s clear, but for so many questions like ministry in the Church or moral theology, we need more differentiated solutions since the questions are not the same.”

On same-sex blessings, Bonny said there would have been “a different outcome” if Rome had invited bishops from a group of countries where gay marriage is the law to “sit together and make a common proposal”.

He went on: “We could have gone to Rome to discuss [the matter] with the Pope, not with all the cardinals, but the Pope himself, to find the best way possible, according to the Gospel, and what Jesus is teaching us, in the general interests of the Church and the Salus Animarum [good of souls]…That would be real collegiality.”

This requires a different role for Rome and a reimagined relationship between the papacy and local churches. Just issuing a repetition of old formulas to complex pastoral questions is inadequate. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, which said same-sex blessings are impossible because “God cannot bless sin”, was issued without consultation with bishops or the relevant Vatican departments.

By contrast, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s family life teaching, emerged after two synod gatherings on the family. Synodality offers ways for a discerned judgment to be reached. Rather than issuing condemnations, Amoris Laetitia focussed on accompaniment, integration and discernment and the positive elements in so-called “irregular” relationships. Fr James Alison, another of the webinar panellists, sees this as the magisterium of the Church walking alongside people. The learning process, he said, happens “sideways” and through “dialogue”. He explained: “It is sideways that we learn who we are. It is from and who each other.”

The second area is how Catholic teaching on homosexuality could be updated. Fr Alison, who is openly gay, argued that the stumbling block on the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics remains the definition in the Catechism that same-sex orientation “is objectively disordered” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”.

He added: “Until someone lets them off having to treat us as a negative definition from the heterosexual act, we are never going to move on. That is at the root of this.” A proposed amendment to the catechism could be to change the phrase “objectively disordered” to “differently ordered”, something which Jesuit priest Fr James Martin has called for.

Bishop Bonny pointed out that the catechism can be updated, adding: “I think there are paragraphs that in a very reasonable, collegial way could be changed for the good of the Church and for the pastoral work we have to do.”

Moral theologian Professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, another panellist, argued that change is more likely to come from the “bottom-up” in the Church, and less from top-down changes.

“I think it’s a mistake to keep trying to work out the reality of same-sex couples or gay and lesbian people within this older terminology which is so concerned with tying everyone down into very careful definitions so that we know exactly where to put everyone and how to set boundaries around them,” she said.

“The Catholic Church never changes its teaching by rejecting or revising what is from the past. Instead, we allow it to die a decent death.”

Professor Cahill, who teaches at Boston College, Massachusetts, said the Pope was offering a Gospel-based morality of “care, compassion and closeness” which should be at the centre of decision making. Amoris Laetitia, she points out, draws from the teaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the application of the natural law and the way it takes into account different factors even in “what is objectively true and right.” Professor Cahill pointed out that Amoris Laetitia states that even couples in “irregular” situations are not deprived of “sanctifying grace”.

The third area is which model of the Church people are using. Bishop Bonny says he likes to see the Church as a family seeing his role as a father or grandfather. It is his responsibility, he said, to make LGBT Catholics “feel part of the family that is the church, not only by welcoming them, but also by giving them a responsibility.” He also recommended that bishops take the time to meet with same-sex couples in their homes.

“Invite your bishop for an evening meal at home and talk with him. It will be a conversion for him”, he advised gay Catholics.

“Once I was invited by two women in a civil marriage with two children, that evening changed my ideas about what it means to live together as a homosexual couple, even having children. I can have many questions, but it changed my ideas.”

If the Church is a family, then it cannot adopt the characteristics of a sect. Sects tend to see themselves as a club and are willing to exclude or throw out people who don’t conform. If the Church is a family then it will always be distressing to hear of people leaving.

Sr Gemma Simmonds of the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge said the Church cannot operate a system of “you don’t have a ticket” so you are not welcome.

“We are losing people, we are bleeding people…who find that the reality in which they live no longer finds a response within the church of acceptance and blessing,” she said. She offered 1 John 4:16 as encouragement for same-sex couples: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in them.”

The Vatican’s doctrine office may have thought that issuing a ruling against same-sex blessings would be enough to close down further discussion about the topic. In fact, it has had the opposite effect, only sparking more debate which go to the heart of what it means to be the Church.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholicism’s outdated views on gay community

The Vatican recently ruled that unions between same-sex people cannot be blessed.

By Gerry O’Shea

A few weeks ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) in the Vatican issued a universal edict refusing a church blessing for homosexual partners as part of the wedding ceremony.  

Their stated reasoning for this blanket rejection focuses on the alleged sinfulness of gay sexual intimacy which the Vatican statement claims God could never bless.

Early in his pontificate, on the plane back from a successful trip to Brazil, Pope Francis responded to a question about homosexuality by asking, “Who am I to judge?” He wondered why he should condemn a gay person of goodwill doing his or her best to live a decent life.

This is hardly a controversial statement; it would win approval in almost any company. However, the Catholic Church maintains a different perspective.

Francis’ predecessor, Benedict, described the homosexual lifestyle as “objectively disordered,” and before him, John Paul II denounced the intimate behavior of same-sex couples as “against the natural law.” It is this response to queer relationships that underpins the CDF statement.

The National Catholic Reporter, a prominent Catholic newspaper, gives front-page coverage to a committed Catholic couple who wanted a priest’s blessing of their union on their wedding day. A friendly priest from the LGBT community performed the ceremony – in an Episcopalian church.

According to the gospels, Jesus never even addressed this issue, and in focusing on his message of love and compassion he had very little to say about proscribing any sexual behavior.

The Catholic Church has definitely not followed his example in this regard.

While not deviating from the ideal high ground of a chaste lifestyle, Francis promised a more pastoral approach to homosexuals. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he supported civil unions where the state recognizes gay marriage as legal – a position that he has also advocated as pope, highlighting every person’s need for a supportive family.

While dealing only with civil arrangements, this thinking drew a lot of criticism from the strong traditionalist wing of the Catholic Church, especially in America. They reminded Francis of the core Catholic teaching that all sexual activity must be confined to marriage and procreation.

No pre-marital sex, no contraceptives allowed, and certainly same-sex lovemaking is completely anathema. The Catholic teaching on marriage is succinct: one man, one woman, one time!

This attitude to sexuality broadly fitted in with the wider culture until the 1960s. Since then, there has been a transformation in the thinking about what is permitted and appropriate between consenting adults. The easy availability of contraceptives drastically altered the behavior of dating couples, gay and straight.

It is no longer acceptable in Western culture to demean people because of their sexual proclivity. And Vatican statements, including the recent one from the CDF, always advise that homosexuals should be respected and treated with dignity.

Many gays cast a cold eye on this pronouncement, asking how can an institution that views their lifestyle as disordered and unnatural be sincere in wishing them well and offering them pastoral counseling.

It is instructive to consider the changing perspectives on homosexuality through the lens of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They considered it a mental disorder until their 1973 annual convention when a slight majority of the psychiatrists voted to remove this negative designation.

Instead, their Diagnostic Manual of Disorders (DSM) named it as an “orientation disturbance,” a halfway effort aimed to include both sides in the APA. It wasn’t until 1987 that all negative connotations to being queer were removed completely from the DSM.

Cardinal Newman, the great 19th-century thinker and convert to Catholicism, warned that human knowledge of God and ethical issues can never be frozen in time and that church teaching must always be dynamic, open to new insights in response to advances in scientific knowledge and human experience.

Change, moving from past positions, has always been a challenge for big organizations and that certainly applies to the Catholic Church. Popes tend to show unwarranted deference to the teaching of their predecessors.

Paul VI, agonizing over the issue of contraceptive use in the late sixties, felt he could not go against the teaching of Pius X1 in his encyclical Casti Connubi (Latin: Of Chaste Wedlock) published in 1930. Pius was asserting traditional values in the area of sexuality against the liberalizing statement in the same year by the Anglican leadership at their Lambeth Conference, which allowed the use of contraceptives by married couples in limited circumstances.

Anyway, Paul went against the advice of a clear majority of his advisory commission, mainly because he felt that deviating from his predecessor would damage papal credibility. His encyclical Humanae Vitae (Latin: Of Human Life), published in 1968, remains true to Casti Connubi and disallows the use of condoms or the contraceptive pill even by married couples. The overwhelming majority of Catholics disregard this papal ordinance with, ironically, serious damage to the credibility that Paul sought to enhance.

More recently, Francis replied to the important question of ordaining women by stating that his predecessor John Paul II already ruled that out, without sharing his own opinion. Interestingly, it is a central issue on the agenda of the German church in their important ongoing synod, and they are likely to recommend change in this discipline. If other national and regional synods take a similar stand, Rome may not be able to staunch the forces of modernity.

At present, any priest or bishop participating in a female ordination is subject to excommunication. Tough luck on the many women who feel called to priestly service.

These ecclesiastical regulations reflect the cultural beliefs of other times. The Vatican is finding it very challenging to update and restate its belief system, especially in the light of positive advances in popular perceptions and scientific insights about the gay lifestyle.

Christians call on the spirit that pervades the universe, the spiritus mundi, for guidance. Catholic theologians in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1964) stressed the importance of what they called the sensus fidelium, the beliefs of the people in the pews, in gradually developing an understanding of controversial issues.

The men in the Vatican pay occasional lip service to this concept, but in reality, they want to keep power for themselves and they have been really successful in this regard. The lay community, non-clerics, have virtually no say in deciding church teaching about the queer lifestyle.

Back to the recent CDF pronouncement about blessing gay marriages. The ruling from Rome elicited expressions of dismay in progressive church circles. Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna said that as long as the request for a blessing is genuine and comes from a good heart, “it will not be refused.”

Seven of the ten Austrian bishops have been critical of the Vatican statement, and 200 German theologians questioned a regulation that suggests the exclusion of gay couples from God’s love. And more than 2,000 priests in Germany and Austria promised to continue blessing unions of queer couples with the proper disposition.

In America, Cardinal Tobin in Newark, from the minority progressive wing of the American bishops, proudly welcomes gays to his cathedral and states that the church’s approach to sexuality badly needs rethinking.

Across the Hudson, the large Catholic homosexual community in New York would surely celebrate if Cardinal Dolan showed a similar magnanimity, but he is a leader of old-school thinking. He fully supports the CDF statement and, unfortunately, no priest in his archdiocese can offer a sacerdotal blessing of the marriage of gay parishioners because the CDF in the Vatican has declared that God has ruled it out.

Complete Article HERE!

Austrian Catholics fly rainbow flag after same-sex blessing ban

This church in Vienna’s Breitenfeld neighbourhood is among those flying the rainbow flag

By Jastinder KHERA

The Catholic church of the parish of Hard is one of many in Austria which decided to fly the rainbow flag in solidarity with the LGBT community after the Vatican ruled last month that the Church couldn’t bless same-sex partnerships.

The powerful Vatican office responsible for defending church doctrine, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), handed down a ruling that same-sex unions could not be blessed despite their “positive elements”.

The office wrote that while God “never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world… he does not and cannot bless sin”.

Hard’s parish priest Erich Baldauf says he and the hundreds of other clergy who belong to the reform-oriented “Priests’ Initiative” movement decided to fly the flag to show “that we do not agree with this outdated position”, with many other churches also making the gesture.

Soon after the rainbow flag in Hard was put up, there was an attempt to damage it, and last Tuesday Baldauf was saddened to discover that it had been burnt.

“We were shocked… it pains us,” Baldauf said.

While the perpetrator has not been caught and there is no proven motive, Baldauf notes that other flags that have flown in the same place were never subject to attack.

In the following days, another rainbow flag outside a church, also in the far western state of Vorarlberg, was burnt, while a third was stolen.

In the following days, two other rainbow flags hanging outside churches, also in the far western state of Vorarlberg, were also burnt.

Contrary to the impression that these incidents may give, surveys show that Austrian public opinion is firmly on the side of equal treatment for same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Austria since 2019 and a survey last week found that a full 64 percent of Austrians opposed the Vatican’s recent decision.

A mere 13 percent said they could understand the Vatican’s stance.

Austria is still a majority Catholic country, with the Church counting just under five million adherents in a country of 8.8 million.

But this represents a steep decline from the decades after the war, in which almost 90 percent of Austrians belonged to the Church.

Experts say differences between Austrian social attitudes and Church teaching on issues such as homosexuality and abortion contribute to tens of thousands choosing to leave the Church each year.

– ‘Hurts to the core’ –

It’s not just the explicitly reform-oriented Priests’ Initiative who have spoken out on the CDF ruling.

No less a figure than the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, said he was “not happy” with the Vatican’s pronouncement.

“The message that went out via the media to the whole world was a simple ‘no’ and in fact a ‘no’ to blessing, which is something that hurts many people to their core,” he explained to the Catholic newspaper Der Sonntag.

Toni Faber, the priest of Vienna’s iconic St Stephen’s Cathedral, was even more forthright.

“If I had the job of causing the most damage possible to the Church with two pages of text, I would write exactly the sort of letter that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written,” he told the Profil news magazine.

The CDF’s statement “totally misfired” in the aim of “upholding the sacrament of marriage”, Faber said, adding that none of the heterosexual couples he marries “feel diminished by the fact that I give blessings to same-sex couples”.

The unhappiness has found an echo among Germany’s Catholics, with priests using a hashtag calling for “disobedience” online.

While some prominent German bishops have supported the Vatican’s stance, others accused the CDF of seeking to stifle theological debates which have been active among German Catholics in recent years.

A German petition calling for the CDF’s ruling to be ignored has been signed by 2,600 priests and deacons, as well as 277 theologians.

The reaction in Germany and Austria speaks to broader global fault lines on social issues between socially conservative and liberal congregations.

However, according to Jesuit priest and former head of Vatican Radio’s German section Bernd Hagenkord, German-speaking countries also have “a very particular tradition of theology which acts very independently” and is less amenable to being overruled by Church hierarchy.

Back in Hard, the parish church decided to leave the remnants of the burnt flag in place for several days after the attack.

“It had the effect of a cross,” says Baldauf.

But in time for Good Friday, a new rainbow flag once again flew proudly outside the church, a sign of welcome for all parishioners at Easter.

Complete Article HERE!