Cardinal Calls for Equality of Heterosexual and Homosexual Relationships

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

So far I’ve only seen one news report in English about this item, but there are several in German that are floating around the web.  It is too good not to report, even though the information is rather sparse.

Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki told a major Catholic conference in Germany that relationships of same-gender couples should be treated equally with heterosexual couples. An article in The Local, an English news source in Germany reports:

“He told a crowd on Thursday that the church should view long-term, faithful homosexual relationships as they do heterosexual ones.

” ‘When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships,’ Woelki told an astonished crowd, according to a story in the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

“Woekli acknowledged that the church saw the relationship between a man and a woman as the basis for creation, but added that it was time to think further about the church’s attitude toward same sex relationships.”

Speaking at the 98th Katholikentag (Catholic), a conference of 60,000 Catholics in Mannheim, Woelki joins a growing chorus of episcopal voices who are calling for change in the hierarchy’s traditionally absolutist refusal to acknowledge the moral goodness of lesbian and gay relationships.

Last December, London’s Archbishop Vincent Nichols made headlines by supporting civil partnerships for lesbian and gay couples in the U.K.  That same month, Fr. Frank Brennan, a Jesuit legal scholar in Australia, also called for similar recognition of same-sex relationships.   In January, Bishop Paolo Urso of Ragusa, Italy, also called for recognition of civil partnerships in his country.

March of 2012 saw an explosion of questioning from prelates of the hierarchy’s ban on marriage equality. At New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium,Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia called for a total re-examination of Catholic sexual ethics to allow for, among other things, moral approval of same-sex relationships.  The Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a bill that would legalize civil unions (albeit as a stopgap measure to prevent marriage equality).  Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine, announced that the diocese would not take an active role in opposing the state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality, as it had in 2009. In Italy, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan stated in his book, Credere e Cognoscere (Faith and Understanding), that “I do not agree with the positions of those in the Church who takes issue with civil unions.”  You can read excerpts, in Italian,  from the book here. An English translation of a different set of excerpts, thanks to the Queering the Church blog, can be found here.

While opposition to marriage equality from the hierarchy, especially in the United States, is still massive and strong, it is significant that these recent statements are all developing a similar theme of at least some recognition of the intrinsic value of lesbian and gay relationships, as well as the need for civil protection of them.  May this trend continue and grow.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




0 replies
    • Gerald
      Gerald says:

      Oh, believe it, TIM: the Cardinal’s words will and already have received wide attention ! Yes indeed!
      My prayer is that these words will not be stomped on and nullified by Vatican action. From his reported current position on such things, how could/can H.H. Pope Benedict XVI ignore these words of a fellow German. . . .no need for an Italian translation. . lol. . .and from one of his “Princes of the Church” ! What does Rome do with a Cardinal talking like this? Imagine that. . tsk. . tsk…tsk. . LOL

  1. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    As a Gay, German Catholic living in the US, I can only say that it is about time that someone in the Catholic hierarchy took a stand for equality. I am, overjoyed to hear this. And from a German no less! If there is any people that have learned the lesson of the equality in the harshest manner possible, it’s the Germans. The Holocaust taught us much about ourselves as a people, and treatment of others. This is why Germans tend to be the most socially progressive people in the world.

  2. Ruseell Sveda
    Ruseell Sveda says:

    Thanks for posting this. This is how change begins. Woelki, at 55, is the youngest cardinal, and (assuming good health) will be voting for popes until 2047.

    I took the liberty of posting it on Anne Rice’s Facebook page.

  3. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Good news indeed – but I fear, not quite as good as the report in The Local implies. I have not found too many German language reports, and the ones I have are brief, but it seems that what he said was not that the church “should” change its teaching, but that it “could” change – that it is conceivable. He was also careful to spell out that this will not happen in the short term.

    In the context though of the bishops you name who are speaking of recognition for civil unions, all the other signs of more open discussion, this is nevertheless important as one more piece of evidence of a gradual shift of emphasis from “acts” to relationships,

    The real conclusion, I believe is not that there could be change, or should be change, but there will be change: just not yet.

    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      Thank you for this qualification, Terence. As you say, the news is still good. We will have to wait for more conclusive English translations to get at the fine point of his meaning. I believe that even if it is “could” and not “should,” his statement is still significant and very hopeful. If more bishops would at least acknowledge that church teaching on same-gender relationships “could” change, that would at least open the conversation. It is at least an acknowledgement that dialogue is needed in this area. (Note to blog readers: Terence Weldon, a U.K. Catholic blogs at “” which is an excellent source of news and pespectives.)

      –Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

  4. Joan Gormley
    Joan Gormley says:

    The church’s stance makes no sense. They do not regard ANY relationship as “matrimony” unless it is a Catholic marriage. So even if they don’t believe that same-sex relationships can be a “marriage,” they believe the same about people who are living together, or divorced people who remarry. So why treat same-sex relationships as any different that those?

  5. Richard in Boston
    Richard in Boston says:

    This truly is unbelieveable. I stumbled upon this story last week whille searching for Catholic thinking on same sex marriage. This is huge! I don’t know enough about the protocol when a Cardinal makes statements like this. Does he get “written up,” or pooh-poohed. I can’t imagine the Vatican just ignoring this. But it is very telling that there’s not a single English source reporting this. Where’s the NC Reporter, etc? I’d love to sit down with this Cardinal and say, What?? Really?! I’m moving to Berlin!

      • LK
        LK says:

        Certainly; even as an orthodox Catholic who supports only heterosexual marriage, I agree that much can be done to emphasize that there is good in homosexual relationships (excluding homosexual sexual activity – even married heterosexual couples are DQ’ed from that under the Church’s moral teachings), and that having same-sex attractions does not make one any less worthy of love, compassion, and friendship.

      • lexwellington
        lexwellington says:

        I really appreciate the respectful tone the exchanges have here. As far as what the cardinal did/did not endorse, we have to consider everything in our current situation. The situation right now is that homosexuals/all people are free to have just about any kind of sexual activity they want. On top of that, people can live together, (heteros can) have babies, etc. These things would be what I think would be considered the most against Christian faith. But then the part where there are rights – actually letting people have legal benefits and simplicity for showing a commitment – that is the thing that society denies gays. So in the end, society allows the behavior (gay sex) that I think is at the heart of it all the most offensive, but forbids the behavior (marriage) that would make these people more like everyone else. So, like LK says below – yeah, of course you should acknowledge that gays can have good elements in a relationship.


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  14. […] DeBernardo, writing on the New Ways Ministry blog, said that Woelki is not alone in challenging Catholic teaching on this issue: Speaking at the 98th […]

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