Austria’s Archdiocese of Salzburg has published a new book which explores the blessings of same-gender unions, an important step towards formal recognition of LGBTQ+ relationships in a country where marriage equality was instituted in 2019.
Entitled The Benediction of Same Sex Partnerships, the book was reviewed in The Tablet, and includes quotes from an interview that liturgist Ewald Volgger held with KirchenZeitung Diozese Linz, the diocesan newspaper of Linz. Volgger shared that he was commissioned by Archbishop Franz Lackner to explore the “the question of an official Benediction” for lesbian and gay couples. While stopping short of defining these relationships as marriage, the text finds strong grounding for providing them with a formal blessing. The current area being explored, a Benediction, is described in The Tablet as “not a sacrament and therefore not at the same level as the Sacrament of Marriage…but an official act of blessing.”
This book’s publication comes, Volgger noted, as increasing numbers of Catholics are embracing LGBTQ inclusion in the church. For the benediction outlined in the text to be declared an official liturgy, it would require an amendment to the Catechism’s discussion of homosexuality, which still contains language of ‘intrinsic disorder.’ Says Volgger, “an official liturgy must be based on church doctrine.” The text, co-authored with theologian Florian Wegscheider, also discusses the ethical and scriptural perspectives on same-gender marriage, as well as an examination of how marriage equality developed in Austria.
While Volgger is not certain of a timeline for when such a benediction could be instituted, he wished that it could occur ‘as soon as possible.’ Novena News reported that Volgger observed that theology has been behind the times in regards to the pastoral accompaniment that priests have been providing to same-gender couples for years.
Volgger also shared with KirchenZeitung Diozese Linz that Archbishop Lackner is not alone in his desire for a more inclusive church. He says that a “significant number of bishops want to see a change in thinking concerning the evaluation of same-sex partnerships in church teaching on sexual morality.” The German-speaking church has been particularly outspoken. In 2020, the new head of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing said the church must find a way to recognize sam-gender couples. Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, a close advisor to Pope Francis, has made similar comments. Last year, 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.” Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, Switzerland, said the church had to find a meaningful way to engage such couples.
In Austria, the public tide has been turning significantly in favor of blessing same-gender unions, and Volgger says that “a new approach is not only open to discussion but can be demanded.” This development shows the great impact that public opinion and the influence of lay people can have on shaping the church. We hope that the call for an official Benediction continues and that this soon paves the way for sacramental marriage equality to follow.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, May 25, 2020