A Giant, Hopeful Step in the Direction of Full Equality

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

A different translation of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s comments about the equality of homosexual and heterosexual relationships offers a slight shift in the understanding of the Berlin archbishop’s message reported here on May 20th, though, as far as I can understand, it is still a very hopeful message.  First, I’ll explain the translation issue and then explain why I think it is still hopeful.

Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, alerted me to a blog by Daniel Silliman, who posted a variation on the translation of Woelki’s comments.  Silliman’s post translates Woelki’s remarks, reported in The Deutche Presse-Agentur, the largest news organization in Germany, in this way:

“The Berlin Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki considers it possible that the Catholic Church will soften its strict position against gays and lesbians in the long term …. It is conceivable that the criteria will be refined. He considers it is imaginable that, ‘where people take responsibility for each other, where they live and practice a longterm/permanent  homosexual relationship, that that is to be regarded in a similar way [emphasis mine] as a heterosexual relationship,’ Woelki said on Thursday at the Catholic Congress in Mannheim.
“However, no one can expect a quick change of heart from the Church on this question. There will be no quick fixes, such a process could take a long time. Above all, this would not change it, that the marriage between man and woman for the Catholic church has a special rank, emphasized Woelki. . . .
“The Magisterium of the Catholic Church must deal with such developments. Unfortunately, this often takes a long time, and would not help people living today, said Woelki.”
The biggest difference here is whether Woelki’s comparison phrase is translated “in a similar way” or “in the same way.”  While there is certainly a difference between these translations, I still believe that even if the weaker one is more correct, it is still a giant step forward from the usual absolutist approach most church leaders take that no change can ever possibly take place in the area of homosexual relationships.
What’s more important, as I pointed out the other day, is that Woelki’s acknowledgement of the possibility of change is part of a trend I’ve noticed in the last six months where prelates are finding ways to make concessions about civilly legal ways to recognize committed same-gender relationships.   These concessions are in direct contradiction to the Vatican’s 2003 document “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons”  which stated:
“Where the government’s policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”
 Cardinal Woelki’s comments (even in the translation which weakens the comparison to heterosexual unions)  and the comments of the other bishops cited in my previous post ignore this document’s injunction not to approve of homosexual acts and they certainly do not state clearly “the immoral nature of these unions,” but instead do quite the opposite.
I hope that my post on May 20th did not give the impression that I believed that equality for heterosexual and homosexual relationships in the Catholic Church was just around the corner.   That was not my intention.  Even without knowing of Woelki’s comments that such a change might take a long time, I was still under the impression that such would be the case.  For example, while I rejoice that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia has called for a re-thinking of the church’s approach to sexual ethics,  I am not going to hold my breath until that happens.  Yet, it is still a giant step in the rigtht direction that a bishop has issued such a call.
The cause for rejoicing in Woelki’s statement is that a Cardinal of the Church has acknowledged goodness in same-gender relationships and has compared them to marriage–unlike comparing them to addiction, bestiality, and other human frailties or perversions, as some of his brother bishops have been known to do.  Knowing that one Cardinal–especially one who may not see full equality between heterosexual and homosexual relationships as ideal–can make such a positive comparison indicates that the hierarchy of the church can indeed work for change in this area of doctrine.
I thank Terence Weldon and Daniel Silliman for their clarifications.  I invite readers to offer their thoughts on the Cardinal’s statement, and whether or not this news is seen as a sign of hope.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
0 replies
  1. Gerald
    Gerald says:

    Phew! There..there. . .this morning’s “adjustment” is much easier on the anticipation level. LOL I’ve lived long enough to know that our ancient Holy Mother could never walk, let alone run that fast! No candidate for the Boston Marathon! hahahaaa Rather H.M.’s motto is, in Latin of course: “Ne quid nimis. . . Take it easy!” Anything more sudden would send the blood pressure cuff off the charts! hahaa

    But, in line with Christian HOPE, Francis’ balanced nuance still goes beyond the ‘unexpected’. . .these are “break thru” days. . . and reason to hope for more. In “similar and/or same” way as the oft-used “In the spirit of Vatican II “, let people of good will and devout manner think and act accordingly. . .hopefully “reading the signs of the times” and acting accordingly.

    Can The Church say “AMEN”? 😉


  2. Gerald
    Gerald says:

    May I comment, just a bit, about this part of Francis’ commentary? “The biggest difference here is whether Woelki’s comparison phrase is translated “in a similar way” or “in the same way.” While there is certainly a difference between these translations, I still believe that even if the weaker one is more correct, it is still a giant step forward from the usual absolutist approach most church leaders take that no change can ever possibly take place in the area of homosexual relationships.”

    Something one would need to know from Rome-speak is how the various persons use these phrases. .”in a similar way” or “in the same way”. Does each convey the same thing or something different? A practical example. . . I am not a linguistic expert, by any means but. . . . This is what the Roman committee finally did with the English-speaking Bishops’ Conferences text for the New Missal currently prescribed.: For over 40 years in the Eucharistic Words of Institution the priest said, after the consecration of the Bread . .”In the same way, after supper, he took the cup. . . . ” The New Missal has the priest now saying “In a similar way, after supper, he took the chalice. . .”

    Do these two wordings convey the same meaning. . “In the same way”. . . “In a similar way. . ” ? I know this sounds like quibbling and so forth, but in Romespeak one needs to know how/what they are saying. . . .?

    Can I say that, as in the case of the Eucharistic Prayer, these phrases mean the same thing? If not, then it would seem to me we have a nuanced doctrinal meaning introduced into the Canon of the Mass. If it is so, then was there universal approval and acceptance of the whole Church? As in recent arguments about birth control, contraception and the like what is not “universally received” is not a law. We must remember that the consensus fidelium – the agreeing sense of the Faithful – is one of the “fonts of divine revelation” along with Scripture and Tradition..

    See my point? Is “in a similar way” the same thing as “in the same way” If so, as apparently the Words of Institution show us now, then we take the more positive meaning to the Cardinal’s words. . . there is equality in Marriage. . . Amen.

    BUT. . . it is for the experts to speak. . . .I only sit in the pew and pay and pray. . . .and wonder. 😉

    ray. . . . . 😉

  3. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Thanks, Francis.

    Daniel Silliman reads a pessimistic message into this, but like you, I think the significance is not in the specific words of Woelki, but in the wider context of an increasing number of bishops, priests and others who are standing up and recognizing the need for a different approach.
    I also think that in the widest context of all, its worth noting that Woelki’s words came in response to a Jesuit priest who openly challenged him – something that seems to have characterized the German Katholikentag as a whole. Meanwhile, in Ireland, NCR reports that the assembly of the faithful earlier this month had expression of goodwill from several bishops and senior clergy – none of who attended
    Whatever the state of the episcopacy, the church as a whole is moving on – while the bishops collectively give every appearance of seceding from the Catholic Church.

  4. Brother Benilde Montgomery, O.S.F.
    Brother Benilde Montgomery, O.S.F. says:

    While I admire your role as John the Baptist, I frequently abandon all hope in the Institutional Church. Its present goal seems to be its own decomposition, the most hopeful aspect of its current social positiion. Our hierarchy appear to be either entertainers like Dolan or Decartes-bound intellectuals so caught up in themselves that they are eating themselves up alive. As Maureen Dowd quoted former governor Cuomo, they seem to be more in love with the “Church” than with Christ. I do get some hope, however, from Walker Percy’s “Love in the Ruins” (1971) where we do seem able to reecover our simple, earth-bound, pre-Roman roots.
    But without John the Baptist, we are really slipping away. Keep preaching, “John.”


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] statements that the Church must “rethink” its approach to gay couples and find a way to treat them similarly to heterosexual couples. The cardinal has also endorsed civil unions for same-gender couples. For […]

  2. […] A Giant, Hopeful Step in the Direction of Full Equality (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com) […]

  3. […] As we stated previously, Cardinal Woelki’s comments are a breath of fresh air and part of a growing trend to give some positive acknowledgment of  same-gender relationships from some high-ranking clerics in the church.  May the discussion continue in this vein. […]

  4. […] light of the recent statement in favor of same-gender relationships made by Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki,  a friend provided a historical precedent by […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *