Bishop Prohibits Blessing of Same-Gender Couple as Marriage Equality in Germany Goes Into Effect

A German bishop has barred the blessing of a same-gender couple’s relationship just as marriage equality in the nation became effective October 1, and his decision was received poorly by a religious organization for LGBT people, while a powerful German Catholic lay organization reiterated its call for marriage equality.

Mayor Peter Hinze

Bishop Felix Genn of Münster forbad a church blessing for the mayor of the city of Emmericher, Peter Hinze, and his partner, which had been planned for September 30. Fr. Stefan Sühling was to celebrate a “blessing for loved ones” during a Liturgy of the Word, reported Katholisch.de.

Hinze said the prohibition gives one “the impression that we are second-class people,” and that “dogs, cats and motorcycles are blessed, but we are not worth it?” Diocesan spokesperson Bishop Stephan Kronenburg told a German news outlet that the prohibition was “not about degrading a same-sex partnership,” but necessary to make clear that same-gender civil marriages are not equivalent to sacramental marriages.

The Ecumenical Working Group of Homosexuals and the Church released a statement critical of Bishop Genn’s decision. Markus Gutfleisch said that, even with Pope Francis’ leadership, the relationship between the institutional church and LGBT people “is still quite disturbed.” He continued:

“Theologically, there are no convincing reasons to refuse this blessing. The blessing of God applies to all who live in love with one another and await God’s assistance. . .The Working Group of Homosexuals and the Church now demands a courageous rethinking of the church, which affects churches, pastoral ministers, and church leaders.”

The Central Committee of German Catholics, which first called for the church to bless same-gender couples in 2015, reiterated their position. President Thomas Sternberg said the institutional church should give “a signal of ecclesiastical appreciation for same-sex couples.” He added, “Behind this is the wish that God may help the blessed,” according to Katholisch.de.

Relatedly, a bishop who called for same-gender relationships to be blessed back in 2015 was recently elected as vice chair of the German Bishops Conference. Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck had said previously that “with prayer and a private form of blessing, you will be able to accompany [such couples] on their way.”

In contrast to Bishop Genn’s prohibition, there are a number of German-speaking bishops who have made positive comments about same-gender couples, including Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, and Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn. For a full listing of church leaders who have made supportive comments about same-gender couples, click here.

The German bishops’ overall response to the legalization of marriage equality has been quite nuanced. In a statement on the issue earlier this year, 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. Most positively, Cardinal Marx said he was less interested in opposing marriage equality than in defending the non-discrimination rights of LGBT people, a task which he acknowledged the church has failed to take seriously.

Though it would be ideal for the bishops to join celebrations of the many new marriages that will now happen in Germany, it is still real progress that blessings for same-gender couples are even being debated. Such a situation is impossible to imagine in the U.S. church, for instance. Hopefully, priests and pastoral ministers in Germany will take the initiative with the space that has been created and find ways to,  “signal an ecclesial appreciation” of the love between same-gender couples and within their families, as the Central Committee’s stated.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 9, 2017

9 replies
  1. Miriam
    Miriam says:

    Robert, I always love your articles. I profoundly want to preserve the sacramental matter of marriage. Such matter is supposed to indicate the nature of the grace dispensed and revealed. In marriage, in the beginning, we were designed male and female, to be fruitful and multiply. In time there were mutations making the distinction between male and female less clear, while godly virtues were always needed. Intersex people were obvious to those who cared to look or ask. Does intersex nature eliminate the matter required for marital grace? This issue cannot be taken lightly, just as annulments cannot be taken lightly. Then if after extensive study, a couple is found lacking in the required matter, but the couple still wants a covenantal commitment, can the couple receive a non-marital blessing? We have to draw the line somewhere so the union is a sign of love between God and God’s people. Since God is one, I don’t believe polygamy qualifies. I’m try to open discussion.

    Reply
  2. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    As I stated before, it is my believe that marriage, whether for straight or homosexual couples is a blessing and not a sacrament: Essentially, a blessing of the love between two persons. Actually, there is only one sacrament: Jesus the Christ, the sacrament of God. All other true sacraments emanate from the Christ. Several years ago, in a review of sacramental theology, we found no scriptural or traditional basis for considering marriage a sacrament. In fact, for several centuries, only royalty and the wealthy were married in the Church.

    Reply
    • Friends
      Friends says:

      A very interesting point, as to the fact that at one time, only “royalty and the wealthy” were married in a formal Church ceremony. If that precedent in fact exists, then it opens the door for all legally-civilly-married couples to be granted identical status in our contemporary Church. Gender becomes a non-issue, as long as a valid civil marriage exists between two persons. Accepting this common-sense approach which has historical roots, we could neutralize a lot of the gay-bashing and gay-hating that infects the contemporary RCC. But good luck trying to get the elderly ecclesiastical trolls who think that they personally and privately OWN the Church to accept this clarification.

      Reply
  3. Juliana BoerioGoates
    Juliana BoerioGoates says:

    On Saturday, we blessed the animals in honor of our Patron Saint, Francis of Assisi. I’m sure all the congregation there could recognize the distinction between a blessing and baptism. No one left thinking their dogs had been baptized. I wish the bishops would give the laity some credit. Explain a blessing is a blessing and let us figure it out.

    Reply
    • Juliana BoerioGoates
      Juliana BoerioGoates says:

      Rereading my post, I want to make it clear that I am supportive of blessings for LGBT couples, my perhaps unfortunate choice of dogs in the example, rather than birds or turtles, was not meant to imply any thing negative. I get frustrated that the bishops think we will all be confused.

      Reply
  4. Terry Weldon
    Terry Weldon says:

    I see Bishop Genn’s direct prohibition of same-sex blessings as paradoxically, a sign of progress. Recall that in the USA, the steady stream of states writing laws or constitutional amendments to outlaw same-sex marriage did not begin, until it there was some public recognition that such marriages were even conceivable. As support for same-sex marriage grew, the opposition campaigns intensified. We know how that ended – with legal accommodation, and majority support.
    In Germany, there has been some behind the scenes discussion of blessings for some years. Under the radar, there have also been some such blessings actually conducted, without publicity or formal ecclesiastical approval.
    The introduction of civil gay marriage has forced this into the open. One bishop has publicly rejected the possibility, when forced to by a specific proposal. Others will say nothing, or turn a blind eye when blessings are in fact conducted. Sooner or later, the church will be forced to face reality, and find a way to greater accommodation for legally married same-sex couples in their pastoral provision.

    Reply
  5. DON E SIEGAL
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Blessing of Same-Gender Couple

    Sacramental Grace

    This comment is directed to the comments on this blog.

    St. Augustine wrote that a sacrament was a visible sign of an invisible grace. The Baltimore Catechism added instituted by Christ. The Baltimore Catechism was written by the Council of Baltimore. It was never an official Vatican Document.

    So, what is the visible sign of matrimony? The rite of marriage is just a mountain top experience for the couple. The grace becomes manifest in the life of the couple; The love the couple show toward each other and for any children who come into that family mirrors the love that Christ has for the Church. Therefore, it does not matter if the couple are opposite sex or same sex. In both cases, the love shines through to others.

    Do you know the story about baby ACE? It is about an abended new born infant found wrapped in a tee-shirt and left on the steps into a subway station on Canal street where the “A,” “C,” & “E” trains met. A partnered gay man found the infant and rescued her. Child Welfare Services later asked the gay couple if they would like to have temporary custody of the infant. Ultimately the couple was able to legally adopt the infant. During her teen years, same-sex marriage became legal in New York. They included the teen about how and where they should get married. The teen suggested they ask the same judge that had presided over the adoption process to solemnize their wedding, and that is how it happened. Is there anyway one cannot see the visible sigh of grace in this marriage?

    Reply

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