An Austrian bishop has offered an apology for comparing blessings for same-gender couples to the blessing of a concentration camp, among other troubling comparisons.
Bishop Andreas Laun, a retired auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Salzburg, made the offending comparisons in a guest post for a right-wing Catholic website. KathPress reported (the following is a computerized translation):
“‘The blessings of God can be asked for sinners, but not for sin. . .So you could not initiate a brothel, bless a concentration camp or weapons that are not exclusively for hunting or legitimate defense. It is clear that one must not bless a sinful coupling, nor the mafia, and give no blessings for associations or institutions that promote and perform abortion, or propagate anti-faith ideologies, anti-Semitic content, and other forms of racialism.'”
Laun added that, even if such a blessing occurs, “[if] you stick a label ‘honey’ on a jar of pickled cucumbers, the cucumbers will stay sour, and even blessing bishops will not be able to change that.” GGG.at reported last year that Laun wrote a post on the same right-wing website in which he said lesbian and gay people were “disturbed men and women” with “anatomical deformity.” Attempted criminal charges were raised at the time, though were ultimately unsuccessful.
Laun has since apologized for his most recent offensive remarks, reported Vatican News. He released a statement to the LGBT community that said, “If someone feels that way [offended], of course I am sorry and in this sense I can also apologize.” He explained that his point, using “drastic examples,” was simply that the Church blesses almost every person but cannot bless “neither minor nor greater sins” which are “against the commandments of God.”
Before the apology, criticism was swift and sharp from not only fellow prelates in Austria, by from other Christian and political groups. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna and Archbishop Franz Lackner of Salzburg condemned the remarks. In a statement, Schönborn said, “It’s unacceptable to talk like that” and that it was “not worth mentioning. . .in the same breath” the things which Laun compared. He continued:
“‘Marriage for all presents challenges to us as a church for which we have no patent remedies. . .We need to give cautious answers to these questions, which have the dignity and salvation of all concerned in mind.”
Lackner appealed for Laun to apologize for what Lackner called “undifferentiated juxtapositions,” saying, “It is incomprehensible how systematic crimes against humanity can in any way be related to same-sex lifestyles.”
Critics outside the Church included Thomas Hennefeld of the Reformed churches, who described Laun’s remarks as “an intimidation” which may be prosecutable. He said the comparison is both “a slap in the face” of gay people who have their relationships blessed and an anti-ecumenical insult to churches which allow such blessings. In politics, equality spokesperson Mario Lindner of the SPÖ part said the bishop “definitely crossed a border.” Other politicians had called for Laun to apologize as well.
A growing debate over blessings for same-gender couples has emerged in the German-speaking church. Yesterday, Bondings 2.o reported on two Austrian parishes which had offered Valentine’s Day blessings to same-gender couples alongside heterosexual couples. At least two bishops in Germany have spoken positively about such blessings.
There are too many ways in which Bishop Laun’s post diminishes the violence of the Holocaust or racism, all while denigrating LGBT people and their relationships in the starkest terms. An apology is only a first step. If Laun truly wants to reconcile with offended communities, he needs to back his apology with action. Listening sessions and dialogue with LGBT people and their families would be good next steps because, as his Cardinal Schönborn attests to, it is these encounters which can break open hearts and develop relationships.
With the season of Lent now underway, it is a prime moment for Bishop Laun to do reconciling penance. Let us pray he comes to such clarity.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 16, 2018