Acknowledging that marriage equality is “now a political reality,” the vice president of Germany’s Catholic bishops conference is calling for the church to have a debate about blessing same-gnder marriages.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck, in an interview with a local newspaper in his city, said:
“I’m concerned with fundamental questions of how we deal with each other; although ‘marriage for all’ differs clearly from the church’s concept of marriage, it’s now a political reality.”
A Catholic News Service story published on The National Catholic Reporter website carried translated excerpts of Bode’s comments:
“We have to ask ourselves how we’re encountering those who form such relationships and are also involved in the church, how we’re accompanying them pastorally and liturgically. . . .
“Same-sex relationships are generally classified as a grave sin in the church, but we need to think how we can differentiate. . . .
“Shouldn’t we be fairer, given that there is much that’s positive, good and right in this? Should we not, for example, consider a blessing — something not to be confused with a wedding ceremony?”
In calling for a debate, Bode noted that “silence and taboo” settle nothing.
Besides the obvious good news that a leading bishop is calling for a marriage equality debate in the Catholic Church, this news is significant in another important way. Here is a bishop who has acknowledged that marriage equality is a new reality in the world and that the church needs to respond to this reality by examining it more carefully.
Here in the U.S., our bishops, for the most part, have been ignoring the fact that marriage equality is a nation-wide reality for going on three years now, not to mention that it had been slowly advancing since 2002 when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize it. With few exceptions (e.g., Cardinal Cupich in Chicago, Bishop McElroy in San Diego), almost all our bishops seem to be going on as if a major social and cultural change has not occurred. It seems the only times that they seem to acknowledge marriage equality as a reality is when they feel their religious liberty is being threatened or when they want to fire a gay or lesbian church employee who decides to marry.
Our church needs a much more proactive approach to the arrival of marriage equality. When marriage equality arrived in Ireland a few years back, a number of bishops there acknowledged that a great change had taken place. Even though they did not necessarily agree with the change, they did not continue to speak and act as if the campaign against marriage was still continuing. They adopted more reconciliatory approaches.
It’s no surprise that the call for a debate about marriage equality in the Church has come from Germany. Prelates there, especially Cardinal Marx and Cardinal Woelki, have been very open and positive about same-sex relationships. Indeed, the German bishops conference has already instituted a policy to protect lesbian and gay church employees who are legally married–a far cry from what most U.S. bishops have done. And the Catholic lay people of Germany have also spoken forcefully for greater support of LGBT people in the Church.
LGBT Catholics and allies have been waiting decades for a debate about the morality of lesbian and gay Catholics to occur in the Church. Let’s hope and pray that this strong call from a leading prelate will inspire other bishops and church leaders to do the same. The debate is long overdue. Let the talking begin!
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 12, 2018