A German bishop has reiterated his support for blessing same-gender couples and the need for civil recognition of such relationships, too, saying the hierarchy must reconsider its teachings on homosexuality in light of contemporary science.
Bishop Dieter Geerlings, auxiliary bishop emeritus for the Diocese of Münster, made his remarks during an event of the Queergemeinde, or Queer Parish, in that city. Katholisch.de, the official website of the German church, reported:
“‘It is my personal opinion that the church can bless same-sex partnerships,’ said Geerlings. . .But he did not want to adopt the term ‘marriage for all’, he explained. For marriage is determined by the sacramental doctrine. He prefers to speak of ‘registered civil partnerships, but meaning the same thing’.
“Geerlings admitted that his conviction was ‘not congruent with the idea of the official church’. However, the church should not refuse the blessing when people long for it, and conduct their relationship in responsibility, love and faith. ‘People who ask for blessing want to know what the church can bestow.’ A blessing is to ask that the relationship succeed and be present in God’s help and love. A blessing is not about a ‘life assessment’.”
Geerlings also called for the church to reconsider homosexuality and sexual ethics more generally in line with Vatican II’s recognition that sexuality is not only about procreation, but about love. The Magisterium needs to stop limiting homosexuality to the “corner of pathology,” and instead listen to contemporary science. He added as a bishop:
“‘I’m a teacher, but if the Magisterium just teaches and does not learn anymore, then something is wrong.’ . . .
“‘In agreement with the diocese of Münster, I submitted a paper on changing the church’s sexual morality for the synodal path. . .[The question of homosexuality] has to be on the agenda of the dioceses, it has to be on the agenda so that even those who are afraid lose their fear.'”
Back in 2018, Geerlings said that blessings for same-gender couples were permissible because the “mutual responsibility” partners show for one another is “valuable and praiseworthy, even if this bond is not in complete agreement with the church.” Earlier this year, he said the Catechism’s words about respecting lesbian and gay people were “not enough” and that changes in society must be accounted for when considering homosexuality.
Geerlings’ comments defy the more conservative bishop, Felix Genn, under whose authority he works. In 2017, Genn forbade Fr. Stefan Sühling from celebrating a “blessing for loved ones” over a same-gender couple because the bishop did not want civil marriage to be conflated with sacramental marriage.
But many German-speaking Catholics have been at the forefront of support for blessing same-gender relationships and LGBTQ equality generally. Bondings 2.0 reported earlier this week that the chief executive of a Swiss Catholic church body, Franziska Driessen-Reding, also endorsed such blessings and said the local church did not oppose civil marriage equality. Earlier this year, the Diocese of Limburg began a process to discuss the topic , including hosting listening sessions. Last year, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, deputy chair of the German Bishops Conference, said the church should allow such blessings for couples who are civilly married as a means of accompanying them. The Central Committee of German Catholics, a lay organization, endorsed such blessings as far back as 2015. And while not supporting blessings, a number of high-ranking church leaders including Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, and Vienna’s Cardinal Christoph Schönborn have made positive comments about lesbian and gay partnerships.
In March, Germany’s bishops announced a “Synodal Path” process the national church would be undertaking, a part of which would consider sexual morality under Bishop Bode’s leadership. How this process will play out is not yet clear. It will be critical for success, however, that bishops and all Catholics be able to share their opinions openly. Bishop Geerlings’ forthrightness about the Magisterium’s need to rethink homosexuality is a gift to the church. It should not be squandered.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 25, 2019