Homophobia was an «unholy line of tradition» in the Catholic Church, says Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin
Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin has asked forgiveness for the church’s discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation.
Homophobia was an «unholy line of tradition» in the Catholic Church, Koch said May 17 during an ecumenical service in the Protestant Twelve Apostles Church in Berlin.
The German Catholic news agency KNA said he called for respect for the dignity of every human being, regardless of their sexual orientation, and announced that the Archdiocese of Berlin would take measures to ensure this, ucanews.com reports.
Denver’s Archbishop, Samuel J. Aquila, has entered the fray in an internecine battle which some fear could split the Catholic Church. Last week, Aquila joined 73 other bishops from around the globe in signing an open letter to the bishops of Germany regarding a series of reform-minded conferences in the German church known as the Synodal Path.
Triggered by revelations of priestly sexual abuse in the German Church, the Synodal Path–also translated as Synodal Way–is intended to bring together clergy and laypeople to address the exercise of power and authority within the church, and has waded into topics regarding sexual morality, priestly celibacy, and the role of women in the church. The assembly first met in 2019 and is scheduled to conclude in 2023, per Catholic News Agency.
Georg Bätzing, chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, emphasized the importance of the process in healing the church from years of scandals and abuse, saying, “only in this way will we achieve new credibility and new trust in the public and among the faithful, which we have squandered.”
In February, the assembly signaled its support for amending church teachings on homosexuality and same-sex relationships. According to reporting from ABC after the synod’s February meeting, the group “approved at an assembly last week calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. It also called for church labor law to be revised so that gay employees don’t face the risk of being fired.”
It was this stance which elicited the response from Aquila and the others.
The letter, titled a “Fraternal Open Letter of Correction,” lists as its primary concern that the German bishops’ actions “undermine the credibility of Church authority…and the reliability of Scripture.” The bishops who signed the letter warn that the Synodal Path process “has implications for the Church worldwide,” and that “the potential for schism” in the church will “inevitably result.”
Dovetailing neatly with current culture war issues in American politics, the signatories of the letter accuse the German bishops of being influenced not by Scripture but by “contemporary political [and] gender ideologies.” The letter goes so far as to say that the reform-minded German bishops, “display more submission and obedience to the world and ideologies than to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”
Aquila, Archbishop of a diocese which encompasses all of northern Colorado, is more than a signatory to the letter, though. He is also featured in the text. In the opening paragraphs of the letter, the bishops recommend that the German church leaders read a previous open letter published by Aquila in May 2021, which covered much of the same ground.
For church observers, it’s no surprise that Aquila is featured prominently in the recent letter. The socially conservative clergyman, no stranger to controversy, has waded into a number of culture war battles over the years. Aquila, who famously blamed LGBTQ people for priestly sexual abuse of children, is a staunch opponent of abortion rights for women and was a driving political force behind the anti-abortion ballot measure, Prop. 115, in 2020. Abortion is not the only issue on which Aquila is outspoken, though. In 2019, he opposed a sex-ed bill at the state legislature. In May 2021, he made headlines again when he argued in favor of denying Communion to President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic. Later, in August of the same year, Aquila came out in strong opposition to vaccine mandates as the Delta variant of Covid-19 spread worldwide.
Now that high-ranking church officials–the German bishops, archbishops, and cardinals participating in the Synodal Path process–are attempting to bring some of these more open-minded, liberal social positions into the Catholic church, it is to be expected that Aquila will remain on the front line of the internecine dispute.
Asked about the Denver Archbishop’s role in drafting the text of the letter which has sent waves through the global church, Aquila’s office declined to comment.
As for the German bishops engaged in the synodal process, they do not seem to make much of Aquila’s broadside. “I can reassure you with an open heart: these fears with regard to the synodal path of the Catholic Church in Germany are not correct,” Bätzing wrote in a reply on Saturday, adding that the Synodal Path, “in no way undermines the authority of the Church.”
With the synodal process not scheduled to conclude until 2023, it’s likely that the ongoing saga will continue to pit traditionalist elements of the Catholic church against a more reform-minded generation of clergy who are seeking to rehabilitate the church and its work after decades of scandal. It is this conflict–between the old and the new, as much as between the old and the young–which has prompted concerns of schism.
If indeed the Catholic church did schism, or split, it would be the first such event since the Western Schism of 1378 gave rise to the Avignon Papacy 643 years ago. At the time of that schism, the Catholic church was the dominant political force in western Europe, and the seven decades of chaos caused by the split helped to decide the future of the continent.
Governments no longer rise and fall by the power of the Papacy, though, and the new cries of schism are more about deciding the future of the church than the future of Europe. Catholic church membership has declined precipitously in the past two decades, with a 2021 Gallup survey showing a nearly 20% slide since the year 2000 with little sign of stopping.
Last month, Bätzing criticized “certain elements” within the church for being “ill-suited for a multicultural world in a culturally diverse era.” The warning is one Aquila might do well to heed as he presides over an increasingly diverse congregation, with research showing that Hispanic churchgoers account for 55% of the Archdiocese’s membership–and 70% of its membership under the age of 30.
The German bishops engaged in the Synodal Path believe the church must adapt and present a vision for the future if it’s going to reclaim its relevance.
On the other side of the conflict to determine the future of the church, however, Aquila and his co-signatories have a vision for the future which looks strikingly like the past.
As for which faction will chart the course for the globe’s 1.2 billion Catholics, or preside over an historical schism , only time will tell.
A well-known priest has congratulated Olympic medallist Kellie Harrington and her wife Mandy Loughlin on their wedding and criticised the Catholic Church’s stance on same-sex blessings as “out of date”.
Fr Paddy Byrne, parish priest of Abbeyleix, Ballinakill, Raheen in Co Laois, lamented the “sad” fact that he can bless tractors and cars but not a loving same-sex couple.
Speaking to the Irish Independent he said the boxer and healthcare worker “encompasses and personifies all that Christianity is about”.
In a tweet, Fr Byrne described Kelly Harrington as “a national treasure” and said he wished her and her partner health and happiness.
“I find it sad that as church we can bless cars, tractors…I’m not assuming this couple may want such ritual, but for many likewise who do we should,” he wrote.
He was congratulated by Labour TD, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, for his comments.
Fr Byrne told the Irish Independent the Church’s ban on same-sex blessings is “one of the reasons why the level of practice among under 60s at the moment is in freefall”.
He added: “It is not about diluting the truth of Christianity – it is about embracing the consequences of the radical love of Jesus Christ.”
Referring to the sense of exclusion many gay couples feel within Catholicism, he asked: “How can we continue to alienate these couples at such a happy moment in their lives and not offer at least some form of recognition – spiritual nourishment – and ritual?”
He said he did not know Kellie personally or anything about her religious background or tradition, but he felt it was a “paradox” that cars and tractors can be blessed when a committed couple could not.
“I wanted to acknowledge a happy moment in her life particularly in the context of Holy Week, which is a narrative about inclusion, love and welcome.
“These couples aren’t from the moon, they are from loving families, they are our siblings, they are our people, they are us – they are humanity.”
Stressing that he was “not a maverick in any way”, he said people on the ground in the Church buy into the need to offer gay couples a ritual to mark their commitment.
“I speak on behalf of the vast majority of the members of the parishes that I serve and particularly the younger members of those parishes. I speak on behalf of clergy as well. The majority of us find it not just disappointing but almost embarrassing that we cannot celebrate these occasions in our churches,” he said.
“Let’s go to church, people!” my mother shouts to us every Sunday morning.
My sleep is not essential because the enthusiasm I wake up with is astounding. I love my religion. I love Catholicism.
The older I get, the longer my prayers and the more I realize the importance of the foundation that my family and church have given me: a belief system with answers to all questions man hasn’t answered. This same belief system has shaped the calm person I am. Without it, I would be lost, without meaning.
I’m far from alone. The Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest faiths on the planet — and growing. The faith claims more than 1.3 billion followers worldwide. For most of these Catholics, religion is the foundation of their identity; however, for a significant minority, religion prevents them from embracing their identity. The more they discover who they are, the further their authentic selves are from the doctrines of their founding religion.
I am talking about gay Catholics.
You are either gay or Catholic.
While I’m not gay, for others, like Matthew LaBanca, being gay means having to choose between Catholicism and one’s identity, but never both. LaBanca’s story, one of many, about him as an LGBTQI+ member losing his job as music director in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn parish the moment he married his boyfriend, attests to the inexistence of a middle ground.
You are either gay or Catholic.
Logically, because of Catholic rules, he could not wed his boyfriend in the Catholic Church, which had witnessed his best and worst moments for 46 years. Why? If the Bible says that we, as humans, have to stick to the core principle and commandments of the Catholic faith — “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” — then why do individuals not accept everyone as they are? If you would love to be fired from your job because of your identity, then fire people for who they are.
I am Joseph — a name with a religious legacy that my great-grandfather trusted me to inherit. I have attended staunch Catholic schools in the formative and adolescent years of my life. I have assumed leadership roles that require me to go to the Basilica every morning to teach my peers how to perform Mass correctly. These positions often meant that I addressed questions about religion and why things are done differently in the Catholic Church. Although I rarely had solid answers — if anything, I had even more questions — one thing I knew for sure was that in Genesis 19, God destroyed Sodom and Gomora for their grave sins, specifically their acts of homosexuality, which implied that God opposed homosexuality.
But I believe that only God can make a final judgment on who lives or dies; therefore, I reject the prejudices and the othering of the LGBTQI+ community by the Catholic Church, and I will continue to hope, pray and speak out about my belief that the Church should do so as well.
It takes a staunch, straight Catholic to dismantle prejudices against gays.
I know that some might ask, “Why not just leave the Church and find one that is more open and liberal?” My response is that just as it takes a Ugandan to effect change in Uganda, it takes a staunch, straight Catholic to dismantle the prejudices against the LGBTQI+ community in the Catholic Church. Besides, no human is perfect; the Church leaders are also human. Thinking of them as flawless humans is a misleading mindset. This is a fact that Jesus recognized.
In Matthew 16:23, Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” From this Bible verse, Jesus rebukes the rock of the Church, Peter, indicating that the Church heads don’t have the right to judge what’s good or bad because they are not perfect beings themselves. The role of the Church leaders is to provide a safe space for everyone to grow and a belief system with answers to questions man hasn’t answered.
I believe that denying the existence of gay people is questioning God’s choice of creating a very diverse world. Everyone should be celebrated regardless of their sexuality.
It is my prayer that gay Catholics should keep their jobs, that the Catholic Church should welcome everyone and that only God should judge what is right and wrong. Amen.
It is hard to know anymore how one should react to yet more pontification from the Catholic church regarding homosexuality.
Contemptuous silence? Outrage? A snort of derisory laughter because, after all, there is something almost comical about a bunch of lace-by-day-and-leather-by-night men, clutching their Grecian 2000 and swishing their surplices indignantly, while denouncing gay people from deep inside their clerical closets. More of which later.
This time, it’s Southwark Diocese, where John Fisher boys school is located. The headteacher and board of governors arranged a visit from author Simon James Green.
Green is gay and, as if that’s not enough to make him burn, has a book for young people with – Les Dawson whisper – an actual gay character in it and some sensitive handling of LGBT issues. The Diocese cancelled the visit, sacked some governors, promised retribution against the disobedient in the coming weeks, then claimed to be taking “a stand against tyranny”, which is a bit like Putin claiming to be on a peacekeeping mission.
The tyranny of what? The existence of gay people? The existence of equality legislation?
But the real dark humour behind all this is Southwark Diocese’s own past. Their seminarians attend St John’s, a troubled joint if ever there was one, according to students who have contacted me over the years.
The problem is hypocrisy, not homosexuality
In the 1990s, St John’s had a moral theologian who became quite renowned. He wrote philosophy books, had a liking for scarves by the luxury Italian designer Ferragamo, and was a fan of the singer Cher. (There’s a clue right there, dear reader.)
In 1998, he was a keynote speaker for the Catholic church at an event on human sexuality but, after that, you don’t find too many references to him. Maybe because he subsequently left and lived as a woman. And we wouldn’t want to talk about that, would we?
Good luck to her. The problem here is not homosexuality or transgender choices. It’s hypocrisy.
The late Richard Sipe, an American ex-priest who spent years researching priestly celibacy globally, estimated that 50% of priests were sexually active at any one time, 6% were paedophiles, and up to half were gay. “A conservative estimate of gay Catholic clergy is 30%,” he wrote in an article in 2012, “[But] many Vatican insiders speculate that the accurate figure is closer to 50%.”
God loves you, brothers and sisters. You are made in His likeness. Unless you are gay, in which case he thinks you are intrinsically disordered. Hard to know why so many clergy parrot that line, given how many of them are homosexual.
What does banning a gay author achieve?
As a journalist, priests have told me about rent boys, sex in parks, gay saunas in Paris and “insider” gay parties attended by even senior clerics with trusted friends. Love and commitment were off limits, but stranger-danger thrills could be followed by confession and some pompous public pronouncements to cover the tracks.
Having attended a convent school, it’s the teenage boys at John Fisher School that I feel sorry for; those who struggle with shame and guilt and depression because they are told – even from those hiding in clergy closets – that they are sick and shameful.
What did they think Green would do in his book-related visit? Issue a gay sex manual?
As for Simon James Green, he didn’t even rate a mention in the church’s published comments. He was nothing, cancelled out of existence, ostracised like some biblical leper.
What did they think Green would do in his book-related visit? Issue a gay sex manual? And what would they achieve by banning him? The eradication of homosexuality? “Expecto patronum!” As Harry Potter would say. That should do it.
Breaching equality legislation
You might expect a little more Christ-like kindness. You would certainly expect more humility from a church riddled with sex scandals. Cardinal Keith O’Brien. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Countless paedophile scandals in every country where Catholicism exists.
But, no sooner are they knocked off their public soapboxes than they jump right back on again as if nothing has happened, trying to seize the old moral high ground while the trickles fall from their bloodied noses.
The church has nurtured a sense of being “other”, both legally and morally. The Vatican is legally an independent state, with its own leader. It has its own – corrupt – banking system, implicated in fraud yet again recently in the Swiss banking scandal. Even its own diplomatic corps.
But John Fisher is a voluntary-aided faith school: the state pays its running costs. If the church wants to ignore equality legislation, perhaps the appropriate reaction is to make clear that the state will no longer pay to allow a scandal-ridden organisation to breach its equality laws on the grounds of “faith”.