Thousands of German Religious Educators Call for Rethinking of Church Teachings on Sexuality

Logo of Germany’s Association of Catholic Religious Education Teachers

Ahead of the German church’s upcoming synodal process, an organization representing thousands of religious educators in Germany has called for the Catholic Church to reconsider its teachings on sexual morality, more specifically on homosexuality.

The Association of Catholic Religious Education Teachers, which represents 70,000 lay catechists in state-run schools, released its letter in advance of the synodal process announced by the Germany’s bishops earlier this year.

One of the three main areas on the agenda is sexual morality. The Association wrote that students’ impressions of the church are quite negative, views emerging from the church’s “turbocharged power in clericalist priestly self-images, its demonization of sexuality, its taboo of homosexuality and its ostracization of remarried divorcees.” La Croix International reported further:

“The teachers insist that the ‘unwieldy, cumbersome’ language of theology urgently needs re-formulation since ‘religious education is concerned with communicating values, not just handing them down.’ . . .

“They also believe the Church must ‘rethink questions of sexual morality, particularly the question of homosexuality,’ and that it must urgently ‘take an honest look into its own ranks’ with regard to sexuality and the capacity for relationships.

“‘Unfortunately, pupils can no longer find in the official Church and the way it behaves what we teach them at school — namely, the words that Christ spoke and the way he behaved on earth when proclaiming his central message of the Kingdom of God,’ said Gabriele Klingberg, chairperson of the Catholic teachers’ association.”

Many German Catholics have echoed the educators’ call for reform. Cardinal Reinhard Marx said the church needs to consider its teachings on sexuality and homosexuality as part of larger efforts for reform. Earlier this spring, theologian Julia Knop addressed the German bishops, telling them that in view of the clergy sexual abuse crisis the “destructive link now impossible to deny [between] power, celibacy and sexual morality in the Church.”  She was clear that the problem was not gay men in the priesthood, but the problematic church teachings on sexuality, reported La Croix International.

Another voice, Bishop Heiner Wilmer, SCI, of Hildesheim, has called for a “new theology” in the church. La Croix International shared:

“The bishop lamented that over the past century the Church had ‘slid’ into a way of proclaiming the Gospel that had led people to see simply an institution centered on sexual morality.

“‘We allowed the Church to deteriorate into a moral institution focused on what may or may not take place beneath the sheets,’ he said, while also stressing that the sixth commandment is not the only commandment.

Wilmer said Jesus Christ’s message was ‘not primarily a moral (message),’ but aimed at liberating and redeeming human beings.

“‘In Saint Matthew’s Gospel he does not say, “If you pull yourselves together, you will be the light of the world” or “if you conform to sexual rules, you will be the salt of the earth.” He uses the indicative and not the conditional or imperative and says, “You are the salt and the light as you are,” the bishop said.'”

But some church officials have clung to outdated attitudes. Fr. Romano Christen, who heads priestly formation for the Archdiocese of Cologne, recently described homosexuality as the “result of psychological (mis)development” resulting in a “gender inferiority complex.” Same-gender love is a “narcissistic search” and a “fixation on pleasure” to “satisfy self-pity,” Spiegel reported the priest saying. Christen also promoted conversion therapy.

What path the German church will take is unclear. The bishops have expressed their desire for a serious rethinking to meet present day challenges, and affirmed the need for lay involvement. Are the bishops willing to go as far as Germany’s laity, like these religious educators, seem to want them to go? It is difficult to imagine how they could. And yet, Pope Francis has encouraged the bishops to let the Holy Spirit lead, so perhaps there is hope after all.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 3, 2019

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