Cardinal: Focus on Church’s Failure to Defend Gay Rights, Not Marriage Equality

In contrast to many Catholic leaders, a ranking German cardinal has said the church should be more concerned with the way lesbian and gay people are discriminated against than with marriage equality.


Cardinal Reinhard Marx

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, made his remarks in an interview with Augsburger Allgemeine , a major Bavarian newspaper.

Marx rejected conservative church voices who have claimed that marriage equality will have dire social consequences in Germany after legislators approved lit earlier this month. While upholding the Magisterium’s heteronormative teaching on marriage, Marx chided critics, according to La Croix:

“‘[It is worth recalling] that the Church has not exactly been a trailblazer as far as the rights of homosexuals are concerned. We must express our regret that we did nothing to oppose homosexuals from being prosecuted. The law (which made homosexuality a crime) was not rescinded until 1994 (in Germany) and we, as a Church, did not concern ourselves with it.'”

Marx, who is a close advisor of Pope Francis, also commented on the key distinction between church and state, as it relates to lawmaking:

“‘The Christian position is one thing. It’s another thing to ask if I can make all the Christian moral concepts (state) laws. . .Whoever fails to understand that the one does not automatically lead to the other, has not understood the essence of modern society.'”

Pressed on this question by the interviewer, Marx reiterated his point that the church does not “simply want to mold our opinions into laws.”  Marx explained:

““We live in an open society in which there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers. In a secular society, the state must make laws that are valid for everyone.”

The interviewer also asked whether the passage of marriage equality proved the church had lost its influence in the public realm. Marx replied:

“‘Surely Christian influence doesn’t show itself only in laws, but in the everyday values that are lived in society. It is not merely a case of our influence but of those concerns, the Gospels oblige us as Christians to carry out. . .We don’t only lobby for the Church!'”

Marx did express support for a legal appeal before the nation’s Supreme Court, but interestingly his welcome of the appeal was so that it would “be good for legal peace in Germany.” This statement could imply that he would accept whatever the Court’s ruling might be.

The German bishops’ overall response to the legalization of marriage equality has been quite nuanced, and in such a way that it is a sign of positive change in the church. In his statement on the issue, Archbishop Heiner Koch disapproved of marriage equality while recognizing a need to protect same-gender couples who exhibit “mutual responsibility and care” in their relationships.

As for Cardinal Marx, his record on LGBT issues has been somewhat ambivalent but is increasingly positive. Last year, Marx said history had treated gay people badly, such that “as church and as society we have to say sorry.” During the Synod on the Family, he was one of the leading voices for greater welcome and pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people. He has also called for a re-thinking of sexual ethics around homosexuality which takes into account the reality of people’s lives and relationships.

At the same time, including in these most recent comments, Marx has continued to advance heterosexual couples as having a “special relationship, and firmly rejected the idea that same-gender relationships could be blessed in the church.

Nonetheless, it is very good news that a church leader as high-ranking as Cardinal Marx would publicly voice what so many Catholics have lived by for years: the church’s primary treatment of LGBT issues should come not from sexual ethics, but from social justice.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 18, 2017

8 replies
  1. Francis
    Francis says:

    Great to read of the openness of Cardinal Marx. It strikes me that there is greater openness in European circles for lgbt issues rather than in America. Still a long way to go but hopefully interventions from lgbt supportive cardinals and bishops is surely a positive way to go.

  2. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    Marx is careful to say nothing against church teaching – while putting the issue into a broader context. He could also be preparing the way for the Church to draw a clear distinction between its stance on matrimony (a sacrament for opposite sex couples only), and civil marriage (a legal contract between two people). German law already draws this sharp distinction, so that it is standard practice for German couples to go through two ceremonies, one in church, and one with a registrar.
    My take:

  3. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    “We live in an open society in which there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers. In a secular society, the state must make laws that are valid for everyone.”

    A bit ironic, isn’t it, that a German named Marx has a better sense of foundational American and democratic values than our current president and many political “leaders.”

  4. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    “In contrast to many Catholic leaders, a ranking German cardinal has said the church should be more concerned with the way lesbian and gay people are discriminated against than with marriage equality.”

    Reminds me of the focus of Jeannine Gramick and Bob Nugent years ago when they founded and led New Ways Ministry in its early days. The focus was on just treatment for LGBT people, not on the morality of sexual activity. Of course, for many years, the focus of the hierarchy was on sexual activity, not unjust treatment. And because Jeannine and Bob refused to make the focus of the hierarchy their own (despite the fact that they never challenged the official Church teaching on sexual morality), they were attacked and censured.

  5. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Tim, I concur with your statement and point out Christ’s reference to render to God what is God’s and to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. While I think marriage of two individuals should be blessed by the Church as a sacrament regardless of the sex of those individuals, it is no more the Church’s business to have an opinion on the matter than were the state to be asked to enforce fast or abstinence during Lent. Also the Church has been claiming the end of civilization if marriage equality occurred and yet there have been no negative signs of societal dysfunction since marriage equality has become the law of the land in many large countries over the last several years. Though the US did elect Trump President after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision so maybe we should be concerned. lol


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