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