As Germany’s Synodal Way Approaches, Lessons from a Gay Priest’s Coming Out
With Germany’s synodal process set to begin this Advent, which will examine sexual morality among other topics, one gay priest’s coming out story reveals how honesty, authenticity, and encounter could powerfully benefit that nation’s Catholics and the church generally.
This year, Fr. Bernd Mönkebüscher became the first German priest who came out as gay without resigning from ministry. Initially on Facebook and then in a new book, To Be Brazenly Catholics, he addressed several church reform issues, including his journey as a gay priest and the bishop who prompted his coming out. Katholisch.de reported:
“. . . [T]he impulse for Mönkebüscher’s step came from [the German state of] Essen. In . . . a magazine article, Ruhr Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck demanded that the church, taking into account scientific findings, correct its negative assessment of homosexuality.”
When he first became bishop in 2010, Overbeck spoke out negatively against homosexuality, but since then he has made a 180-degree turn. ” I myself have come to new insights through my personal encounters and an in-depth discussion of this topic,” he told Katholisch.de.
Mönkebüscher said that Overbeck’s comment finally opened the dialogue “by making something speakable no longer unspeakable. I’m going through that door. At 53. Not proud, more limping.” He has received positive support, but his hope that other colleagues come out also has not been fulfilled.
“Minorities need a face,” he emphasized
Though he has made a positive step in coming out and received much support, Mönkebüscher is clear about the damage being in the closet caused him. The Washington Post reported:
“Soon, the priest was on Facebook, writing about the ‘overdue’ green light from a bishop, describing how Catholicism’s own teachings made him feel ‘masochistic’ and even suicidal at points, and disclosing how he’d never told his parents about his sexual orientation, because they were good Catholics, and he thought they’d be ashamed.
” ‘I’m sorry, but I hold the Church responsible,’ Mönkebüscher wrote.”
Mönkebüscher also spoke with Vice aboout his experiences:
” ‘The way the church treats homosexuality can make your life difficult – the implicit silence, the disbelief, the shame, the loneliness that comes with it, the fear of being called out. And all that, while your only wish is to become a priest. Pope Francis bolstered it even in 2018, when he said gay men are not welcome into the ministry.” ‘It’s no secret that the proportion of gay men among priests is much higher than the estimated 5 percent in the general population. Why does this issue have no face, no story, no examples? When I came out, other people felt empowered to tell their story. The church has wronged many for a long time, and still does so when it considers homosexuality as inferior.
” ‘Gay people shouldn’t live a consecrated life. You cannot consecrate what is wrong under the eyes of God. But tanks can be consecrated? We see now that many gay people are turning against religion. They don’t want to be tolerated, they want to be acknowledged and valued.’ “
The priest, however, said the most important thing now was that people were questioning and debating in the church. He asked, “If you’re not grappling with these questions, nobody is taking you seriously? And then what is the point of existing?”
Besides one chapter on coming out, the bulk of Mönkebüscher’s book is on other issues of church reform, such as pastoral responses to people who are divorced and remarried or mandatory celibacy for priests, the latter of which Mönkebüscher says leads to other problems like careerism, ostentatious clothing, substance abuse, and more.
Questions of sexual morality, clerical celibacy, women’s leadership, and power in the church are among topics that German Catholics will take up during the synodal process between the German Bishops’ Conference and the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics that begins on the first day of Advent. Though there have been some questions about whether it would proceed given the Vatican’s interventions, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who heads the bishops’ conference and is a close adviser to Pope Francis, said everything will proceed as planned. Marx said at an October press conference that the process will change the church because “a synodal process without reform is unthinkable.” Bishop Felix Genn of Münster has commented, per Novena News:
” ‘A sexual morality that most of our contemporaries consider to limit life and that, ultimately, is irrelevant to life, has to accept critical questions.’ “
Fr. Bernd Mönkebüscher has refused to limit life and instead has begun to ask those critical questions. His coming out is all the more remarkable because it was facilitated by a bishop, a bishop whose on views on homosexuality shifted when he took the time to encounter LGBTQ people and engage contemporary science. As Germany’s Catholics undertake a precedent-setting synodal process, they should keep the courageous examples of Fr. Mönkebüscher and Bishop Overbeck in mind. These clerics, like so many LGBTQ and ally Catholics who live authentically and think critically, are modeling a way forward for the church, not only in Germany, but worldwide.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 8, 2019
The Tablet, “Church in the World: News Briefing“
German Catholics[’] … synodal process between the German Bishops’ Conference and the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics that begins on the first day of Advent
“[A] synodal process without reform is unthinkable.” Bishop Felix Genn of Münster has commented.
I came into the full communion of the Catholic Church from the Lutheran communion in 1991. I cannot help but see the irony of this proposed synodal process in 2019 and the reforms of the reformation of 1517, both originating in Germany. Maybe, the German theologians know something that the rest of the Catholic hierarchy does not. A real listening to the laity is rare in most of the Conferences of Catholic Bishops in their various political jurisdictions.