Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx said definitively that he does not support blessing ceremonies for lesbian and gay couples, ending several weeks of speculation based on comments he made in an interview which originally appeared to support such rituals.
Marx, the head of the Archdiocese of Munich-Friesing, made his clarifying statement at the spring meeting of the German bishops conference, of which he is the president. According to Katholisch.de (computerized translation):
“Marx opposed interpretations that he recently advocated the blessing of same-sex couples in individual cases . He said only that he could imagine dealing with single cases, ‘that there can be a spiritual encouragement; I didn’t speak at all about the blessing of same-sex couples, even in public,’ said Marx. He also made it clear that the Pastoral Commission was not concerned with ‘finding blessing opportunities.’ “
According to the news report Marx also noted that possibly blessing of same-sex couples is not on the bishops’ agenda. He said the issue needed to be carefully examined, and the task has been given to the pastoral commission of the bishops conference.
Marx’s original comments in an interview seemed to indicate his support for a blessing ceremony, something that is recently being discussed in the German-speaking world. When asked if he supported such blessings, his response was reported in translation as:
“Yes, however there are no general solutions. That would not be right, I think. It’s about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies in other areas as well, which we can not regulate, where we have no sets of rules. That does not mean that nothing happens.”
However, later reports indicated that a translation problem with his “Yes” was likely incorrect. Instead of indicating affirmation, the word could have been meant as a rhetorical interjection, comparable in English to “Well” at the beginning of a comment.
Where it seems Marx has not changed in his view is that he still seems to affirm the pastoral principle of dealing with each person or couple on an individual basis. It seems he does not see a broad condemnation of homosexual relationships as a viable pastoral strategy, though his recent comment indicates that he does not go so far as recommending blessing these unions.
In an essay for The National Catholic Reporter, Marianne Duddy-Burke and Jeff Stone, respectively Executive Director and Media Director of DignityUSA, commented on the ambiguity of Marx’s original remarks from a few weeks back. They exposed what they see as an underlying assumption of the cardinal’s approach to pastoral care:
“The problem with this approach is that it reinforces the church’s official view of lesbian and gay individuals and same-sex couples as less than full members of the body of Christ. It requires priests and other pastoral workers to determine whether an individual situation merits the risk of a secret blessing, and implicit validation of the person’s sexual orientation and intimate relationships.
“This puts both the seeker and the giver in tenuous positions, subject to criticism and attacks from those who find such action contrary to church teaching — which, in fact, it would be.”
Duddy-Burke and Stone imagine that a doctrine-following-practice approach may be the way that the Church moves forward on the question
of lesbian and gay relationships:
“Perhaps the only way for the institution to change is through an incremental approach, whereby the number of individual cases gradually increases, and the experience of those involved somehow convinces a sufficient number of those in authority that a change in doctrine is merited. Then the process of debating the theology and tradition that might support such a change could begin. How long such discernment might take is anyone’s guess.”
It was important for Cardinal Marx to clarify his position, disappointing as his clarification was. The speculation about what he supported was more problematic than knowing his position clearly. The good news here is that he has suggested that the German bishops conference study the question of blessing. Two German bishops have already definitively called for blessing legally married lesbian and gay couples: Bishop Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck (who is also vice president of the bishops conference) and Bishop Dieter Geerlings, an auxiliary in Münster. Two parishes in Austria, a German-speaking nation, have already been blessing such couples.
Cardinal Marx’s clarification has not ended the debate. It is just the latest installment in a conversation that seems destined to continue and become richer.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 22, 2018