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.
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