A German bishop has begun a process to discuss blessings for people in relationships that cannot be married in the Catholic Church, including same-gender couples.
Dr. Beate Gilles, head of the Diocese of Limburg’s Office of Children, Youth, and Family, released a letter on behalf of Bishop Georg Bätzing inviting church employees and representatives of Catholic associations to discuss the question, “Couples, who cannot enter Catholic marriages, ask for church blessings. What to do?” Gilles letter explained further:
“Between the reality of life and conviction of many Catholics and the teachings of the church there is a tension. We want to talk about that at the discussion forum. We want to hear people who ask the church for a blessing for their partnership. There will be reports from pastoral workers and we will get to know the proposal for blessing celebrations. Above all, we want to talk and discuss with each other.”
The types of couples named for consideration are those who do not wish to be married, those who are divorced and civilly remarried, and those in same-gender relationships. Part of the discussion will be of a proposal by Fr. Johannes zu Eltz, dean of Frankfurt, to bless such relationships. Suggesting the desire for blessing is a “primitive human need,” the priest wrote:
“[The couples being blessed] all agree that a sacramental marriage is out of the question, but they want to ask for God’s blessing for their partnership in a church celebration.
“The offer of a blessing celebration is based on the conviction that there is moral good in the common life of the partners: loyalty, care, responsibility, obligation. This good deserves approval and, where faith comes into play, is blessing. . .
“The blessing celebration asks for God’s blessing for a successful future of something that already exists. The blessing does not constitute a sacramental bond between the two persons. The fact that a binding partnership has been established by public declaration of intent is noted with respect.”
Eltz, who signed a February letter from German theologians and prominent Catholics seeking a “new start on sexual morality,” was detailed about the practicalities of any potential blessings. For instance, there would be a need for a “binding public statement” from the couple that their partnership is for life; one option for this statement could be a civil marriage license. Eltz said the blessing would take place only during a Liturgy of the Word and not include aspects of a marriage ceremony, such as the use of rings, so there would be no confusing blessings with the sacrament of marriage. Given it is not Mass, any person in lay ecclesial ministry, in addition to clergy, would be able to preside over such a blessing. No church worker would be forced to do so. Eltz also wrote:
“According to the wishes and the personal history of the couple, reconciliation and penance can also play a role in the intercessions: with regard to guilt and injury in one’s own life story (e.g. civil remarriage) or with regard to wounds that the Church has inflicted (for example, in the devaluation of homosexual partnerships).”
This forum follows an initial, smaller meeting in February where people provided testimonies about their relationships. A report on the Diocese of Limburg’s website detailed the testimonies given by two gay people at that meeting. A woman identified as Luitgard shared that she and her wife met at a rainbow prayer service in Frankfurt. When the entered a civil union in 2008, they sought a church blessing as well, which was organized with a defrocked priest. Luitgard said in the report, “It was important to us, with God’s help and God’s blessing, to consciously continue on our common path.” A man identified as Thomas told his story of meeting a partner during an LGBTQ-friendly Mass and seeking a blessing for their 2011 union.
Pastors, too, shared about difficulties with the current situation about blessing what some term “non-traditional” relationships. One priest appealed for the Church to keep discussing the issue because, as of right now, he will not bless such couples, but he told attendees, “I wish to be able to say the blessing and to say that you are the way you are, you are good.”
In one sense, the discussions in the Limburg diocese are significant progress. Suggestions of blessings have been raised before, but this time there is a concrete proposal by a ranking Church official under review. In another sense, though, Bishop Bätzing and his pastoral staff are simply naming dual realities that already exist: many people have loving, committed relationships outside of Catholic marriages and some priests are quietly blessing such couples.
Confronted by the disparity between people’s lives and magisterial teaching, the People of God in Limburg have chosen the path of honest and open discussion which allows the Holy Spirit to act. It will be quite interesting to watch these discussions unfold given the implications they may have for the wider Catholic Church.
In a related note, Bondings 2.0 editors Francis DeBernardo and Robert Shine will be reporting firsthand from Frankfurt next week as they join a New Ways Ministry pilgrimage to Belgium and Germany. The pilgrims will be meeting with Frankfurt-area Catholics for a conversation on LGBTQ issues in the Church. To learn more about the pilgrimage, click here.
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—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 22 , 2019