German Theologians Propose New Paradigm for Sexual Ethics

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 4.40.16 PMLast fall, Catholics worldwide submitted their responses to the Vatican’s request for input on marriage and family life that would inform next fall’s Synod of Bishops. In Germany, two theological associations released their responses to the Vatican’s questionnaire, and they were highly critical of the hierarchy’s teaching on sexual ethics. 

The responses were drafted by representatives of the Association of German Moral Theologians and the Conference of German-Speaking Pastoral Theologians, and signatories included some of the most highly regarded theologians in the German-speaking academic world. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the letters said:

“Church sexual teachings…come from an ‘idealized reality’ and need a ‘fundamental, new evaluation.’

” ‘It becomes painfully obvious that the Christian moral teaching that limits sexuality to the context of marriage cannot look closely enough at the many forms of sexuality outside of marriage.’ “

The theologians responded in full to the Vatican’s questionnaire, but they went beyond merely criticizing the inconsistencies and harmful elements of the hierarchy’s teachings. The article continues:

“The theologians also propose that the church adopt a whole new paradigm for its sexual teachings, based not on moral evaluations of individual sex acts but on the fragility of marriage and the vulnerability people experience in their sexuality…

“Moving to their proposal for a new paradigm of evaluating sexual acts, the theologians say the church needs to appreciate the nakedness and vulnerability people experience in their sex lives.”

When writing specifically about same-gender relationships, the German theologians responded to the questions which asked what pastoral attention should same-gender couples receive and how to pastorally care for their children:

“There is ‘pastoral attention’ in many forms, but it is not enough. An official statement should signal clearly to persons in same-sex civil unions that faithfulness, dependability and solidarity are not worth less in the eyes of the Church because shown by gays and lesbians. This does not require a pre-decision for the equality of their unions with marriage…

“Fundamentally, the transmission of faith is not more difficult for same-sex couples than for heterosexual couples. If homosexuals ask for baptism for their child, one should appreciate that they intend to raise their child according to the Credo. Children can never be refused the sacrament because they grow up in the context of a homosexual partnership (cf. ‘Evangelii Gaudium’, 47).
“Regarding the communal spirituality in such a constellation, it is important to use the metaphors of mother and father for God in a differentiated manner. Moral teaching that is not idealistic, but anchored in the theology of grace, would also be helpful.”
You can read the full letter, including the entirety of the theologians’ responses to the questionnaire, at the National Catholic Reporter‘s website by clicking here.
It is hopeful to see the responses coming in from lay Catholics, theologians, those in religious life, and elsewhere in the Church which advocate for a rethinking of sexuality, marriage, and family life. What impact they will have during next October’s Synod is not clear, but it is a change in the Church that input is even being solicited and honestly given.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
0 replies
  1. JohnM
    JohnM says:

    This proposed new paradigm for sexual ethics is a thoughtful and brave start to the discussion. I too am impressed. I hope that German scripture scholars, as well as many others, tackle the scriptural justifications for anti-gay rhetoric and behavior among the hierarchy. Having examined the passages in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, I find that there is a need to contextualize and clarify Leviticus and Paul’s statements on homosexuality, and most importantly, to debunk the unchristian rhetoric derived from cultural, linguistic, and theological misunderstandings.

  2. Larry Quirk
    Larry Quirk says:

    I too am heartened by the responses. If they take them seriously, the Synod will find much wisdom in the thoughts that are coming from the faithful themselves. I only hope that these responses will not be amalgamated into a report that will be given lip service but no true effect by the hierarchy.

  3. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    Concerning the baptism of children of same sex couples….having the name of both parents, as the child’s parents, on the baptismal certificate would be an appreciated, pastoral and concrete action.

  4. Robert
    Robert says:

    Official Catholic condemnation of homosexuality is actually more based upon ”natural law”, rather than upon Scriptures or Tradition.The Church hierarchy have always known that the scriptural arguments are weak: they are obscure, and may be interpreted in various ways. (But Catholic teaching in all areas in never based upon Scripture alone, anyway.) Now natural law is a good concept, however, the Catholic Church has been using it in a false way. The Hierarchy does not draw conclusions about natural law from the empirical evidence,.as they should, but rather, manipulate natural law to say what they think that it should say. This is the crux of the problem, it seems to me. Also, though they know well that their teachings on homosexuality are in no way dogmas of Faith, yet they are afraid to look at those moral teachings honestly for fear that they lay faithful will imagine that Eternal Truth is being forsaken, and infallible dogmas being undermined. Even worse, as the author of the book ”Homosexuality: a question of truth” rightly pointed out, they are afraid of being considered gay themselves, should they lessen their harsh tone regarding the subject. Thus, ignorance, fear, and a deliberate will to preserve the status quo are what actually keep the Catholic Hierarchy from looking at gay people with justice, understanding and charity. A change of heart is needed, as much as a more informed and enlightend moral theology.


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