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 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 The law (which made homosexuality a crime) was not rescinded until 1994 (in Germany) and we, as a Church, did not concern ourselves with it.'”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