Readers of this blog may become tired over the next year of hearing about Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx. Yet, it seems that whenever he opens his mouth he has something positive to say in regard to gay and lesbian issues (he has not, to my knowledge, spoken about bisexual or transgender topics). He is one of Pope Francis’ nine close cardinal advisors, and at last year’s synod, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach for gay and lesbian people and couples. And already this year, he gave a lecture at Stanford University, California, and during the question period, he addressed gay and lesbian topics positively.
Luke Hansen, SJ, who reported on the Stanford lecture for America magazine, sat down with Cardinal Marx for a one-on-one interview, which the magazine published this week. Again, the prelate had very positive things to say about gay and lesbian people, but he also revealed his limitations on the issue of marriage. What to make of this ambivalence, which seems to be something common among even the most progressive church leaders today?
When asked what he has learned from committed gay relationships that might influence sexual ethics, Marx answered:
“When speaking about sexual ethics, perhaps we must not begin with sleeping together, but with love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship. I am astonished that most of our young people, including Catholic homosexuals who are practicing, want a relationship that lasts forever. The doctrine of the church is not so strange for people. It is true. We must begin with the main points of the doctrine, to see the dream: the dream is to have a person say, a man and woman say, ‘You and you, forever. You and you, forever.’ And we as church say, ‘Yes, that’s absolutely O.K. Your vision is right!’ So we find the way. Then perhaps there is failure. They find the person, and it is not a great success. But life-long fidelity is right and good.
“The church says that a gay relationship is not on the same level as a relationship between a man and a woman. That is clear. But when they are faithful, when they are engaged for the poor, when they are working, it is not possible to say, “Everything you do, because you are a homosexual, is negative.” That must be said, and I have heard no objection. It is not possible to see a person from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person. That is very important for sexual ethics.
“The same goes for people who are together but marry later, or when they are faithful together but only in a civil marriage. It is not possible to say that the relationship was all negative if the couple is faithful together, and they are waiting, or planning their life, and after 10 years they find the way to come to the sacrament. When possible, we must help the couple to find fulfillment in the sacrament of marriage. We discussed this question at the synod, and many synod fathers share this opinion. I was not alone in this opinion.”
Looking at sexuality broadly in terms of situation, context, and quality of relationship is something that Catholic LGBT advocates and many theologians have been saying for decades now. It is refreshing to hear a cardinal of the Church echo such sentiments.
But in the next question, which asked Cardinal Marx if he agreed with Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny’s recent statement that the church should find ways to bless the relationships of gay and lesbian couples, he stated a belief in the normativity of heterosexual marriage:
“I said in the synod that Paul VI had a great vision in “Humanae Vitae.” The relationship between a man and a woman is very important. The sexual relationship in a faithful relationship is founded on the connection of procreation, giving love, sexuality and openness to life. Paul VI believed that this connection would be destroyed. He was right; see all the questions of reproductive medicine and so on. We cannot exclude this great model of sexuality, and say, ‘We have diversity,’ or ‘Everybody has the right to….’ The great meaning of sexuality is the relationship between a man and a woman and the openness to give life. I have also previously mentioned the question of accompanying people, to see what people are doing in their lives and in their personal situation.”
It seems that Marx is not yet willing to be bold in support of institutionally recognizing same-gender relationships as equivalent to marriage. In one sense, his statements are as confusing as Pope Francis’ remarks have been. On one hand, they something positive, and then on the other hand, they defend traditional marriage. This ambivalence is curious. Are they afraid that if they support marriage equality strongly that they will be discredited by the majority of bishops who do not hold their opinions? Or are they truly as ambivalent as they sound, not yet ready to accept marriage.
Both Marx and Francis have spoken of “accompaniment,” and I think that is a good thing. Some critics think that this accompaniment only means that church ministers will accompany gay and lesbian people on a faith journey that is ultimately leading to the acceptance of celibacy. No doubt, some ministers will see it that way.
I think, however, that we need to be aware that any sort of pastoral accompaniment means that the minister may be changed as much, or even more so, than those ministered to. Haven’t you found this in your own experience? That when you think you are “giving” something to someone in need, you find that you often end up “receiving” much more than you were able to give?
I tend to see calls to accompaniment not as devious ways to get people to change their attitudes, but as ways of dialoguing, which leaves both parties open and vulnerable to change. Accompaniment has been terribly absent from most parishes’ approach to LGBT people. Shunning and shaming have too often been the official response. Accompaniment, while not the ideal, does seem to be the next step that is needed in the process of the institutional leaders of the church getting to know and appreciate what so many of us have already seen for so long: that LGBT people, and their relationships, are wholesome, healthy, and holy.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry