The Catholic Church should apologize to lesbian and gay people for the harm it has caused to them, said a top cardinal and close advisor to Pope Francis.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, speaking to the Irish Times after his address at a Dublin conference, said:
” ‘The history of homosexuals in our societies is a very bad history because we’ve done a lot to marginalise [them]. . .As church and society, we’ve also to say “sorry, sorry.”
“Until ‘very recently’, the church, but also society at large, had been ‘very negative about gay people . . .it was the whole society. It was a scandal and terrible.’ “
Marx was in Dublin at Trinity College for the Loyola Institute’s conference, “The Role of Church in a Pluralist Society: Good Riddance or Good Influence?” He called for the church to engage positively with the world, acknowledging historical periods when “Christian faith wasn’t on the right side” of societal developments.
Addressing specifically civil rights for lesbian and gay people, the cardinal said governments should “make regulations for homosexuals so they have equal rights or nearly equal.” He explained his “nearly equal” qualification is because church teaching opposes marriage equality, describing heterosexual marriage as a “special relationship.” But Marx followed up by affirming the legal recognition of same-gender relationships, reported Catholic Philly:
” ‘We have our moral position [on marriage] and that is clear but the secular state has to regulate these [same-gender] partnerships and to bring them to a just position.’ “
Marx, who is a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis, also commented about the two-year Synod on the Family process. According to the Irish Times, he expressed shock that some bishops could dismiss the commitment and service revealed in same-gender relationships:
” ‘We have to respect the decisions of people. We have to respect also, as I said in the first synod on the family, some were shocked but I think it’s normal, you cannot say that a relationship between a man and a man and they are faithful [that] that is nothing, that has no worth.’ “
Marx, the president of the Commission of the Bishops Conferences of the European Community, has a generally supportive record on LGBT issues in the church. Most recently, he attended Germany’s Catholic Day gathering which draws more than 30,000 people and, for the first time, this year welcomed LGBT organizations.
During the 2015 Ordinary Synod of Bishops, Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo, who covered the meeting from Rome, described Marx as “one of the strongest pro-gay voices.” The German working group which he moderated acknowledged the harm that “hard and merciless attitudes” in the church have harmed marginalized communities that include gay people and urged bishops to seek forgiveness.
In interviews during and after the Synod, Marx said God would not focus solely on a person’s sexual orientation, but on whether people in same-gender relationships were “faithful, care for one another and intend to stay together for life.” The church must begin its sexual ethics from “love, fidelity and the search for a life-long relationship” and not merely see a person “from only one point of view, without seeing the whole situation of a person.”
Cardinal Marx’s record on LGBT issues is not entirely positive. He maintains a heteronormative defense of marriage and, in response to the lay-led Central Committee of German Catholics’ call for the church to bless same-gender partnerships, called some of their proposals “theologically unacceptable.“
His latest remarks in Ireland are, nonetheless, a positive and welcome development. An apology by the Catholic Church for its part in discrimination and violence that LGBT people have faced would be a major step toward reconciliation. This step would be especially strong if it came from Pope Francis, whose condolences after the massacre in Orlando would not acknowledge the LGBT victims targeted, just as he neglected LGBT issues during his 2015 trip to two nations in Africa which criminalize homosexuality. Church leaders should listen to Cardinal Marx’s wisdom and consider how their words and actions could advance reconciliation with LGBT people and their families.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry