German Bishop Calls for Sexual Ethics Overhaul, While U.S. Prelates Cling to Past

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier

A German bishop has recently called for an overhaul of the Church’s sexual teachings in light of responses to the Vatican’s survey on marriage and family released last fall. Meanwhile, high-profile American prelates are holding firm to anti-LGBT teachings and exemplify why at least one columnist is calling for bishops to get on board with Pope Francis.

Bishop Stephan Ackermann of the Trier diocese was being interviewed by a German publication when he made remarks suggesting the hierarchy must rethink sexual ethics, as survey responses revealed how far church teachings are from the reality of lay Catholics’ lives. National Catholic Reporter quotes the bishop on several topics, indicative of his broader point:

“Declaring a second marriage after a divorce a perpetual mortal sin, and under no circumstances allowing remarried divorced people ever to receive the Sacraments, was not helpful, he said and added, ‘We bishops will have to make suggestions here. We must strengthen people’s sense of responsibility and then respect their decisions of conscience.’…

“As far as homosexual relationships were concerned, the church would have to appeal to people’s sense of responsibility, he continued. ‘The Christian concept of the human being emanates from the polarity of the sexes but we cannot simply say homosexuality is unnatural,’ he explained. While the church must ‘hold fast’ to the uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman, it could not just ignore registered same-sex unions where the couples had promised to be faithful to and responsible for one another.”

Ackermann faced a divided re-action from the German hierarchy, with bishops both criticizing and affirming his call for open discussion. Last month, the episcopal conference in Germany released a report on the survey results which claimed Catholics view the hierarchy’s sexual ethics as unrealistic and merciless. A group of leading theologians released their own responses, affirming the need to rethink sexuality and relationships in their call for a ‘new paradigm.’

Also rejecting calls for reform of sexual teaching are Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Cardinal Raymond Burke. Cordileone, who heads up the US bishops’ Committee for the Defense of Marriage, recently wrote letters supporting the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014, a federal bill. The bill was introduced by Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Randy Weber, both of Texas, and the archbishop affirmed their bill saying marriage needs “to be preserved and strengthened, not redefined.” It would force the federal government to grant marriage benefits based upon where a couple resides, and not where they were married, thereby denying same-gender couples nationwide many benefits now open to them.

In Rome, Cardinal Burke, who was recently removed from a prominent position at the Congregation of Bishops, wrote a letter in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, affirming Pope Francis’ opposition to marriage equality. Burke had harsh words for LGBT advocates, claiming they have twisted the pope’s words, and criticized indirectly the pope’s shift in tone and in emphasis when it comes to divisive cultural topics. National Catholic Reporter reports further:

“Burke said he was prompted to write his column after a recent visit to the U.S. in which he became alarmed that so many people wanted to know whether the pope’s statements about not judging gays and his stress on mercy and welcoming everyone augured a change in church doctrine.”

Burke’s words are those of a once powerful bishop who increasingly finds himself at the margins of Pope Francis’ Vatican. Perhaps bishops, like Cordileone and Burke, who oppose LGBT equality might follow the pope’s lead more suggests John Gehring of Faith in Public Life.  In a National Catholic Reporter essay he states:

“Un-Christian behavior on the part of Christians is as old as Christianity itself. Jesus had to remind the Pharisees again and again that their prideful defense of the letter of the law led them to defile the law’s spirit of justice, love and compassion.

“Pope Francis has brought an unexpected season of renewal and hope for the Catholic Church not because he is a liberal or a conservative. He is inspiring so many because he acts like a Christian should act. Not a bad starting point for Catholic clergy and anyone who tries to follow in the footsteps of Christ.”

Not a bad start at all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    What is and has been going on in the church since the last two popes decided they could reign is all in again is appalling. I wonder if the U.S. bishope know or care how nuch distress this has caused among the no longer placid and very educated laity. When I say distress, I refer to our children who have left the church (not just young kids but our 40 and 50 year olds) who cannot live under the archaic sexual rules the church seeks to mpose on ALL of us. The church needs to get out of our bedrooms and out of our politics. The pope said he is not changing doctrine, but attitude. That means he is allowing room for our individual consciences to ultimately help us decide when we must deviate from the church’s official stance. Those of us who stay find it very difficult…and who can blame us if we need some peace and serenity in our lives and not always be embroiled in the nonsence the U.S bshops are causing. That’s why so many seek other churches…to find peace, understandng, love, and exceptions to the man made rules of the church. I want to stop hurting over this. The only U.S bishop (amd maybe I’m wrong) to share and reveal the findings from a survey he distributed among his St. Petersburg diocese frankly is Bishop Lynch. Those of us who live in that diocese shudder to think what will happen when he resigns in two years. One more volley, those of us who followed the contraceptive ban for as long as we could, adore the multiple families we had. But who is there to help us in our eighties when our bodies feel the results of all those pregnancies: bodies that have been strained to the maximum when we carried and took care of those kids, and the money we are running out of for housing and educating them. I don’t see the church giving out any “G.I. bills) for those who were obedient. And Humanae Vitae is indeed the Gallelio affair all over again And it was and is not an infallible teaching. Yes, I am indeed finished

    • Larry Quirk
      Larry Quirk says:

      Thank you Lydia for this insight from one who has been in the trenches. I am one of those children who have left the RC church because I needed peace. Isn’t that ironic? But seeking salvation is my job and if I cant find it in the Catholic church then I have the obligation to move one as I have.

  2. Larry Quirk
    Larry Quirk says:

    Is it realistic to believe that a man who wears such garb along with the attendants needed to dress and maneuver him around can see the reality of every day life. He is living in his own cloth bubble.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Larry, THIS photo is the scariest one of all:

      Cardinal Burke in his wild regalia…surrounded by altar boys! I mean, given what we know about the “back story” of child abuse, the heart and soul can only shudder. Once again: this preening prelate has NO sense of irony or appropriate self-presentation. He needs to take a lesson from Pope Francis himself, who sets the model with his very simple and unadorned white clerical suit of clothes.

  3. Brian Kneeland
    Brian Kneeland says:

    Conscience has always topped church doctrine – and it can and must on marriage equality issues. Even those bishops who think they are little kings must realize that – and probably don’t like that people are theologically and pastorally educated and can make their own decisions of conscience. Time to let the people vote on their next bishop!!

  4. Barbara J Monda
    Barbara J Monda says:

    It seems to have been very helpful to have given the Laity a voice in the handed down attitudes of the Church for the last 50 years or 2000 for that matter. Perhaps asking the PEOPLE should be done more frequently.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] otoño pasado, llamaron enseñanzas de la iglesia ” poco realista y sin piedad “y   un obispo , junto a la nación de  teólogos líderes , llamados para una revisión completa de la ética […]

  2. […] Synod, they called the church’s teachings “unrealistic and merciless” and one bishop, alongside the nation’s leading theologians, called for a complete overhaul of Catholic […]

  3. […] The German Church overall is showing signs of openness. Earlier this year, leading German theologians responded to the Vatican questionnaire in preparation for this fall’s Synod on marriage and family life, calling for a “fundamental, new evaluation” of sexual ethics. German bishops, after evaluating responses from lay Catholics and others to that same questionnaire, said the Church’s sexual teachings were unrealistic and ‘merciless.‘ Most recently, Bishop Stephan Ackermann of Trier reiterated these calls for new ways of thinking about sexuality and said the Church must “respect their decisions of conscience.” […]

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