Attempts to clarify remarks by a German cardinal that seemed to indicate his support for the blessing of same-gender relations have only added to the confusion.
It was reported earlier this week that Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, answered “yes” when asked in an interview whether he could see same-gender relationships being blessed. But the German Bishops Conference, of which Marx is the president, has since released a transcript of the interview omitting that “yes.” America Magazine reported:
“At issue is whether the cardinal responded affirmatively to the interviewer’s question, ‘So you really can imagine that there might be a way to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church?’ A report initially published by the Catholic News Agency said the cardinal responded ‘yes,’ before giving the rest of his answer. But the site has since updated its story, replacing its original transcript with the one provided by the German bishops conference, which does not have the cardinal saying ‘yes.’. . .
“According to the bishops’ conference translation, Cardinal Marx said he did not believe those changes [blessing same-gender couples, women’s ordination, and married priests] were what the church needs most today. ‘Rather, the question to be asked is how the church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today—but also by new insights, of course. For example, in the field of pastoral work, pastoral care.'”
Inquiring into whether Marx did or did not say “yes,” the Catholic Herald questioned whether the “yes” was present, suggesting it “may have been a throat-clearing, as in, ‘Yes, well. . .'” The Herald further muddied the waters in its report:
“To add to the confusion, Catholic News Service has reported that Cardinal Marx explicitly rejected the idea of blessing same-sex unions. This, however, seems to be another misreading.
“CNS reported Cardinal Marx saying ‘that would not be right’ when asked about blessing same-sex unions. But here is the full exchange:
“‘Karin Wendlinger: So you really can imagine that there might be a way to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church?
“‘Cardinal Marx: There are no general solutions and I think that would not be right, because we are talking about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies to other areas as well, which we cannot regulate, where we have no sets of rules.’
“As more than one Twitter user has pointed out, the cardinal appears to be saying that ‘general solutions’ would not be right – not necessarily the blessing of same-sex unions.”
Most of the Conference’s later translation is similar in content to initial reports wherein Marx did affirm the need to both minister to lesbian and gay people and look at individual cases when it comes to pastoral accompaniment.
Responding to the initial reports about Marx, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia made a statement calling Marx’s and other bishops’ support for same-gender couples to be blessed as imprudent and “the cause of serious concern.” He said such a blessing was “a morally forbidden act” that could “confuse and mislead the faithful,” as well as wound ecclesial unity. These issues were why Chaput said bishops should be clear in their teaching, a message seemingly pointed at not only Marx but other German bishops who in recent weeks have raised the possibility of blessings for same-gender couples (which you can read about here and here).
Marx was also criticized by Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, a former Vatican official from Germany, who said, “Church blessing as confirmation of a God-adverse couple? That seems really outrageous.”
This controversy reflects Cardinal Marx’s generally-positive but still mixed record on LGBT issues. Marx rebuked a lay group in 2015 when it called for blessings like those at issue here. He described that demand as “theologically unacceptable [if enacted] unreservedly,” though he affirmed the need for debate in the Church. Marx was joined by six other bishops in his criticism.
On the issue of homosexuality generally, Marx has reiterated the need for consciences to be respected, and he rejected suggestions that such respect is relativism. He said previously that the Church should focus on its failure to protect lesbian and gay people from discrimination rather then focusing on opposing marriage equality. He suggested the Church apologize to lesbian and gay people for the harm they have experienced.
So what do we make of his most recent interview given neither he nor the German Bishops Conference are willing to comment further? Cardinal Marx should end the confusion that has only been made worse by a potentially-doctored transcript and clearly state where he stands on the issue of blessings for same-gender couples. Such a statement is necessary to fulfill his role as a teacher of the faith. The people of God, in his archdiocese and in Germany, as well as in the global Church which is listening attentively to the words of this close adviser to Pope Francis, deserve nothing less.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 11, 2018