A priest in Austria celebrated a “liturgy of thanksgiving” for a same-gender, civilly-married couple, an act that the priest’s diocese has acknowledged positively.
Fr. Michael Kopp celebrated the liturgy at the parish he oversees, St. Margaret’s Church in Wolfsburg, Austria. News of the liturgy broke when photos of it were released on social media and picked up by conservative Catholic websites. Novena News reported:
“One photo features the two women lighting a candle together before the altar, while another one shows priest Kopp with his hand raised over the couple in a blessing.
“Other images feature details such as flower girls, family members and chairs with ribbons for the couple at the front of the church, as well as the two women holding hands, exchanging rings, embracing, and processing in and out of the service.”
But against conservative criticism, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Graz-Seckau where Kopp now serves defended the priest’s actions. Kath.net quoted spokesperson Thomas Stanzer as saying:
” ‘The basic question is whether homosexuals can feel at home in the church, and family counselor Michael Kopp has answered this question with “yes.” He has in his home parish St. Margaret in Wolfsberg (for which the Diocese of Gurk-Klagenfurt is responsible) with two civilly-married women, both of whom are Christian believers and with the help of the Catholic Church have found a way out of personal crises, celebrated a thanksgiving service (no sacramental liturgy). “Every person, regardless of sexual orientation, should be respected in his or her dignity and care should be taken, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided,” the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia (250) states. At the same time, it stipulates that the partnership between homosexuals should not be equated with marriage (251). Michael Kopp has heeded both.’ “
This past January, Kopp went from heading the family life office in the Diocese of Gurk to a similar position in the Diocese of Graz-Seckau. The liturgy and dispute surrounding it have highlighted the priest’s remarkable understanding of what constitutes family, a definition that is quite inclusive, according to Novena News:
“Earlier this year, Kopp said that family is ‘the root of every personal life existence’. . .The priest added that the concept of family embraces ‘every form of relationship among people in the most diverse constellations of common life’.”
The German-speaking church has been particularly progressive when it comes to the question of church recognition for same-gender relationships. In 2019 alone, Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, Switzerland, said the church had to find a meaningful way to engage such couples. Later a diocesan spokesperson endorsed blessings as part of a larger affirmation of civil marriage equality. Franziska Driessen-Reding, who heads the Canton of Zurich’s Synodal Council, likewise affirmed the need to bless same-gender couples. In Germany, Bishop Dieter Geerlings, auxiliary bishop emeritus for the Diocese of Münster, reaffirmed his existing support for such blessings based on the “mutual responsibility” partners show for one another that is “valuable and praiseworthy, even if this bond is not in complete agreement with the church.” And the Diocese of Limbrug began a process to discuss the possibility of blessings. 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. That country’s lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics endorsed blessings back in 2015.
Importantly now, there is Fr. Kopp who is willing to translate church leaders’ affirming words into concrete pastoral acts. His celebration of this one lesbian couple’s “liturgy of thanksgiving” made headlines, however unfortunate it was because conservative criticism brought it to light. But similar ceremonies are happening more quietly yet with increasing frequency around Europe. Pastors are responding to Pope Francis’ call for the church to accompany people with creativity and courage. In at least this one instance, it is good to see the diocese stand with such a priest.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 15, 2019