Participants in Germany’s Synodal Way produced a working document on sexuality and relationships during regional meetings this month that, if approved later, could move the German Catholic church forward significantly on LGBTQ inclusion and questions of sexuality more generally.
The working document, titled “Living in Successful Relationships – Living Love in Sexuality and Partnership” and dated July 15, 2020, was discussed at five regional meetings on September 4, 2020. These discussion meetings, which were not decision-making, were held in lieu of a second larger synodal assembly which was cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions. The meetings were held in the German cities of Berlin, Dortmund, Frankfurt am Main, Ludwigshafen, and Munich.
The Synodal Way is a dialogical process undertaken by German Catholics, that includes bishops, clergy, and laity, to look at contemporary questions which need to be discussed, such as sexuality and the role of women in the church.
The working document, available in German here, includes eleven statements that were to be voted on, some with proposed alternative texts. The second item describes sexuality very positively, calling it “the source of new life” and that “it conveys identity and is a relationship-building, erotic life-affirming power.” The fifth item says sexuality is part of a person’s “creative task,” and the church desires to support people in living an integrated life, accompanying people in the formation of their consciences and on questions of relationships.
Item 9 is perhaps the most significant for LGBTQ equality in the church, stating:
“We appreciate the different sexual orientations and gender identities of the people as well as the long-term, loyalty and exclusivity of these people.”
Notably, the working document says the primary aspects of sexual relationships are mutual love and respect, and that openness to life is not related to every sexual act, but “in the overall course of” a long-term partnership. The third item builds on this idea, and specifically mentions lesbian and gay partners (via Google Translate):
“Fertility is more than the ability to create new life that is only possible in the sexual communion of a woman with a man. We open the concept of fertility beyond openness to new life and speak about a social and personal dimension to the fertility of every human being. Also same-sex couples and other couples who are not generating new life can have the potential for a fruitful life.”
Items Seven through Ten each were each directly or indirectly applicable to LGBTQ issues. Item Seven stated:
“All people are called to holiness and are tasked with living love as perfectly as possible in their relationships. But people are not perfect, but rather have the task of growing more and more in love and of constantly developing further into the people they want to be in front of their eyes, the eyes of their neighbors and the eyes of God. God has given them all the potential for development. We also respect people’s ability to grow in the realm of sexuality and value their life situations as steps on the way to their goal in life. We take seriously the belief in the grace of God, who is also able to write straight on crooked lines. The aim is to accompany every single life situation, to distinguish good and to integrate into the community of the Church.”
Item Eight states that marriage is the preferred, but not the only, form in which to live love and sexuality in relationship, referencing the values of Item 4, such as durability, loyalty, exclusivity, respect, and love. These are “decisive for all forms of sexual relationship,” according to Item 8.
Item 10 endorses a statement from the German language group of the 2015 Synod on the Family which acknowledged periods where the church has failed in its pastoral care, including “merciless attitudes that have brought suffering to people,” including lesbian and gay people.
Finally, Item 11 is a commitment by the church towards “a truthful and verifiable path of conversion and renewal,” that results in 11.1:
“11.1: In fidelity to Jesus’ message of God’s love for all people, we undertake to ensure that the teaching and practice of the Church in dealing with human sexuality are further developed.”
The proposed alternative texts in several of the sections hewed closer to a conservative analysis of the present situation and the solutions sought. For instance, in the alternative for Item 8, there is an insistence that marriage is the only valid place for sexual relationships. Or in the alternative for Item 9, the appreciation for the positive aspects found in same-gender relationships is removed. To read the full text in German, click here.
Katholisch.de, the German bishops’ media outlet, reported from two of the five gatherings, namely the meetings in Berlin and Frankfurt. That article reported: “A . . . divided picture emerges later in the discussion of the draft forum on ‘Living in Successful Relationships.’ For some the text is too intentionally balanced, for others it is too far removed from church tradition. Both form and content are both praised and criticized by different sides.” The article continued:
“In the conversations about the papers, there are often great differences in beliefs: for some, the question of the ministry is a question of faith, for others a question of organization. These and many other differences are clearly stated, but there is mutual respect. With all noticeable different points of view, perspectives and focuses, a relaxed, attentive atmosphere can be determined. The speakers refer to each other critically as well as appreciatively, the contributions remain constructive and endeavor to exchange ideas. There are no direct attacks among each other. Former ZdK [Central Committee of German Catholics] General Secretary Stefan Vesper finds it important for the discussion: ‘It depends on the tone.'”
The Synodal Way has been marked by both controversy due to criticism from conservative wings of the church, but also an appreciation by German Catholics from many perspectives. While the coronavirus delayed a vote on this working document about sexuality and relationships until February 2021, that it was produced at all in process approved of by the bishops and in which Catholics of all kinds have participated is significant progress. Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will feature further responses and developments from Germany.
For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Germany’s groundbreaking Synodal Way, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 17, 2020