German Bishop Shifts Position, Calls for Church to Rethink Teachings on Homosexuality

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck

[Update: A full English translation of Bishop Overbeck’s remarks can be found here.]

A German bishop has called for the Church to rethink its teachings on homosexuality and condemned problematic aspects of those teachings which have caused people harm.

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen wrote about the need for a rethinking in an essay for Herder Korrespondenz, a prestigious German theology journal, titled, “Overcoming prejudices: The Catholic Church must change its view of homosexuality.” English translations of the bishop’s writing were reported by La Croix.

Overbeck’s statement is a significant change for him.  He once stated that “expressed homosexuality” was a mortal sin.  He explained how personal encounters with gay people have helped him rethink the issue:

“‘In recent years, the many conversations I have had with individual gay people have deeply touched me, given me much food for thought and have widened my perspective on the issue of homosexuality. . .It is high time for the Church to conduct the debate on the perception and appraisal of homosexuality in such a way that the barely healed scars of past wounds are not once again torn open’. . .

“Bishop Overbeck said there is, at the moment, almost no other issue quite as capable of stirring up emotions in the Catholic Church as the appraisal of homosexuality. It is therefore both crucial and urgent that the Church address this issue more deeply, he said.”

The need for this rethinking of homosexuality is the possibility that some aspects of the Church’s teaching “may have led to a disastrous tabooing of the phenomenon of human sexuality.” Overbeck, who is also vice-president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, continued:

“‘This particularly applies to homosexuality because – according to this assumption — such a negative Church view (as that expressed in Church teaching) has promoted and encouraged a psychologically and institutionally unhealthy repression, or even denial, of this expression of sexuality. . .

“One thing is certain: Every human being can most respectfully and lovingly enter into interpersonal relationships. Excluding certain groups is therefore the expression of a prejudice which is hard to bear for those excluded and in the final instance leads to discriminating against or even criminalizing them.'”

In rethinking homosexuality, the bishop said the Church must include people’s experiences of human sexuality as well as the findings of contemporary science on the issue in its ethical reflection. He said, “That is the only way tradition will remain a living process as it has been since the beginnings of Christianity.” Overbeck pointed to Vatican II’s document Gaudium et Spes as a pathway forward.  He cited the document’s section 36 which notes that “the humble and persevering investigators of the secrets of nature are being led, as it were, by the hand of God.”

In a final note, Overbeck rejected the idea that gay priests were a cause of the present clergy sexual abuse scandal, saying the suggestion they were is “downright absurd” and would only further “that attitude which has led to problematic inner-church repressions” which actually caused such abuse.

The bishop’s essay is but the latest in a series of positive developments coming from the German-speaking church. Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, who has spoken previously of how relationships with gay people helped him reconsider homosexuality, recently defended civil marriage equality and identified some goodness in same-gender relationships. Elsewhere, a number of church officials have seemingly defied the Vatican and said they would welcome gay men to seminary as long as candidates promised to maintain celibacy. For some analysis on why this trend may be occurring, click here.

But what is once again affirmed in Bishop Overbeck’s statement is the power of personal encounters. Consider contacting your local bishops for a meeting so you can share your story as an LGBT Catholic or ally and help widen their perspectives.  New Ways Ministry’s “Contact Your Bishop” feature on our website can help you get in touch with him. Click here to find your bishop’s contact information.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 11, 2019

1 reply
  1. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    I like Bishop Overbeck’s view of tradition as a defining constant of change in the Church. It is heartening to re-thinking a tool that has been used to condemn homosexuals and others to become an argument for change to open the hierarchy’s eyes on many issues. It is supported by Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement about the arc of history tending toward justice.


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