An archbishop who directed moral theologians to study the possibility of blessings for same-gender unions was elected president of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference.
On June 16, the conference selected Archbishop Franz Lackner of Salzburg, the former head of the Austrian Liturgical Commission (LKÖ), to be its leader, according to Novena News.
As chairman of the LKÖ, Lackner commissioned a study on the possibility of developing a liturgy of blessing for same-gender couples. Austrian theologian Ewald Volgger recalls that Lackner “asked for an exchange on the question of blessings of homosexual couples.” The commission was established after high profile liturgies that blessed same-gender unions (resembling wedding ceremonies) took place.
Though Volgger and the co-authors of the book, The Benediction of Same-Sex Partnerships, note that the book was commissioned by Lackner himself, Lackner’s spokesperson said recently that Lackner only charged the LKÖ with exploring the issue and having a discussion. Per Lackner’s charge, the LKÖ “led a study day in February 2016 and agreed that the results of this study day should be compiled and that the topic should be further monitored.”
The spokesperson denied that Lackner had commissioned the book itself, however.
Volgger recalls in the introduction to the book, that from this day of study in 2016, it became clear that a “moral theological clarification” was needed alongside a change in the thinking of the Magisterium to “allow for an official liturgy for same-sex couples.” The book was presented by Volgger and Florian Wegscheider as the clarification needed.
The Benediction of Same-Sex Partnerships, which Bondings 2.0 has previously reported on, argues that the church should recognize the “sacramental character” of same-gender couples. The theologians argue that “By blessing homosexual relationships,” the Church would show an appreciation for same-gender relationships, thereby symbolically expressing God’s love for the LGBTQ person.
The blessing outlined in the new book is “not a sacrament and therefore not at the same level as the Sacrament of Marriage…but an official blessing.” Volger noted that in order for the benediction to be recognized as an official liturgy, the Catechism section stating homosexuality is “objectively disordered” would need to be changed, as liturgies must be grounded in church doctrine.
Even as Archbishop Lackner distances himself from The Benediction of Same-Sex Partnerships, his election is cause for hope in the Austrian church. Lackner has spoken out against discrimination against the LGBTQ community and was open enough to the possibility of a blessing of same-gender couples to initiate the conversation. Lackner joins his neighbors in Germany and Switzerland in opening the door to church blessings for same-gender couples.
Though full justice for the LGBTQ community in the Catholic Church requires inclusion in the Sacrament of Matrimony, even the openness to considering a blessing of LGBTQ relationships shows a significant step in the right direction.
LGBTQ Catholics, as members of the universal church, should look to leaders like Archbishop Lackner, Bishop Bätzing in Germany, and LGBTQ-positive bishops in the United States and around the world as signals that pastorally harmful language and practices are diminishing.
Rather than continue to victimize and discriminate against an already marginalized group, Catholic bishops around the world should follow the lead of these LGBTQ-positive bishops and begin to recognize what has always been true: LGBTQ love is a manifestation of God’s love—a sacrament. To deny that fact is to deny the boundless love of God.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, July 6, 2020