At the conclusion of a consultation they sponsored on human sexuality, Germany’s bishops issued a statement in which they affirmed homosexuality as a “normal” part of human development, and they labeled church teaching against same-gender sexual activity a “hot topic”.
The Commission for Marriage and Family of the German Bishops’ Conference held the consultation, “Human Sexuality – how to discuss scientifically-theologically and judge ecclesiastically?”, in early December and included several outside experts in its deliberations. In a concluding statement, the Commission summarized the consultation’s discussion of homosexuality:
“[T]here was agreement that the sexual preference of humans is expressed during puberty and assumes a heterosexual or homosexual orientation. Both belong to the normal forms of a sexual predisposition that can not be changed or changed by any specific socialization. In the Church’s thinking, this means that any form of discrimination against homosexuals must be rejected, as has long been demanded by the Magisterium, and is also explicitly emphasized by Pope Francis in the Post-Synodal letter Amoris laetitia. However, the question of whether the magisterial ban on practiced homosexuality is still timely has been a hot topic, just like the question of the legitimacy of using artificial contraceptives in marriage and unmarried couples.”
This consultation is part of the German church’s Synodal Way that kicked off this Advent, which includes a working group on sexual morality that will include the consultation’s results in its deliberations set to begin next February. Berlin’s Archbishop Heiner Koch connected the December sexuality consultation to this wider process, as revealed in the public statement:
“[Koch] emphasized that the synodal path should be started without prejudice and without already fixed positions, but by no means without knowledge of the state of the sciences. There was a consensus that human sexuality encompasses a dimension of pleasure, reproduction and relationship. . .Two members of the German language group of the Roman Synod of Bishops of October 2015, Archbishop Koch and Bishop [Franz-Josef] Bode, underlined the importance of a solid discussion supported by humanities and theology and emphasized the developments that can already be observed in Amoris laetitia.”
Significantly, the bishops’ statement also suggested that a sexual relationship by a Catholic who is divorced and civilly remarried is “not now qualified as a serious sin” and therefore there is “no general exclusion from the reception of the Eucharist” for such people.
In addition to outside experts, Novena News reported that a number of bishops participated in the consultation, including Archbishop Koch, Osnabrück’s Bishop Bode, Görlitz’s Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt, and Mainz’s Bishop Peter Kohlgraf, some of whom serve on other committees for the nation’s episcopal conference. Several auxiliary bishops also participated.
Beginning with a January plenary, the Synodal Way process, which is binding, will take up issues under four working groups, according to a German Bishops’ Conference spokesperson, Matthias Kopp. In addition to the group on sexuality, the other working groups will be “Power, Participation, Separation of Powers,” “Priestly Existence,” and “Women in Services and Offices of the Church.” The bishops have admitted that the genesis of this process was the “dissatisfaction of many believers,” according to a statement on the Conference website.
The Synodal Way could have ramifications not only for the German church, but for the universal one. While the outcomes of this two-year process cannot, and according to Archbishop Koch, should not be pre-determined, German Catholics could see significant developments. If those participating truly listen to and learn from how the sciences understand human sexuality and relationships today, they can then incorporate such findings into theological reflection and pastoral practice, what could emerge as a groundbreaking moment for Catholic LGBTQ issues.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 12, 2019