A top German bishop has expressed his disappointment with the Vatican’s recent statement banning the blessing of same-gender unions, suggesting the question is not settled.
Katholisch.de reported on comments by Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, who chairs the German Bishops’ Conference and has repeatedly stated his support for blessing same-gender couples. Bätzing said he was “not happy” with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s intervention in the debate over such blessings. The report continued:
“‘This gives the impression that the theological debate, which is currently being debated in various parts of the universal Church, including here in Germany, is to be ended as quickly as possible,” said the Bishop of the KNA. But that is not possible at all. ‘Because the discussion is intense and with good arguments in many places, and the theological inquiries about pastoral practice today cannot simply be put out of the way with one word of power,’ said Bätzing.”
Bätzing also released a statement on the website of the German Bishops’ Conference, saying (via Google Translate):
“In Germany and in other parts of the universal Church there have been discussions for a long time as to how this teaching and doctrinal development can generally be advanced with sound arguments – on the basis of fundamental truths of faith and morality, ongoing theological reflection and also in openness to newer ones results of the human sciences and the living situations of people today. There are no easy answers to questions like these.
“The Synodal Path, which the German Bishops’ Conference has initiated with the Central Committee of German Catholics, therefore endeavors to discuss the topic of successful relationships in a comprehensive way that also takes into account the necessity and the limits of church teaching development. The viewpoints put forward by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith today must and will of course find their way into these discussions. “
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, a support of blessings for same-gender couples, commented, “We will continue to accompany all people in pastoral care if they ask for it, regardless of the life situation.”
Lay Catholics in Germany were more sharply critical about the Congregation’s ban on blessings, reported Katholisch.de:
“ZdK [Central Committee of German Catholics] President Thomas Sternberg expressed his disappointment with the document in a statement published on the Catholic Committee’s website. The note is part of a ‘sequence of disturbances of the Synodal Way’. The blessings remained a topic that is being discussed not only in Germany but elsewhere as well, Sternberg said. An advancement of Catholic teaching, as moral theologians have long been calling for, should not simply be rejected. The catechism alone is not enough to justify it. Sternberg also criticized the ‘fixation on the sexual act’ in the note of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This is ‘shortening, inappropriate and no longer understood by believers’.
“The Catholic Women’s Community of Germany (kfd) sharply criticized the Vatican No. ‘We clearly reject the position from Rome published today, even though we know about the tension between church teaching and the reality of people’s lives,’ it said in a statement. . . ‘It is clear to us that we will continue on this subject in the Synodal Way.'”
But some bishops in Germany welcomed the Vatican’s ban, reported Katholisch.de. These included Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg and Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, who suggested the question of whether to bless same-gender couple was “leading to polarization,” and the Vatican’s intervention will help with “greater unanimity.”
Finally, in a further news development, America reported that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which issued the ban in a statement, had done so without wider consultation of the congregation’s members. Rather, “the matter was discussed only by a small group of some top C.D.F. officials,” before being proposed to Pope Francis for his approval.
In recent years, Catholics in Germany and Austria have been increasingly open to a discussion about such blessings. A number of bishop have even expressed support for offering some type of ritual acknowledgement of same-gender couples. Last year, a working document for the Synodal Way spoke positively of same-gender relationships, and the Archdiocese of Salzburg published a book on the topic of blessings. While the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not provide a reason for why it released a responsum ad dubium on same-gender church blessings at this point, some commentators have speculated that it is because of the German-speaking church’s prophetic conversations.
And Bishop Bätzing is correct that this dialogue will continue.
For a listing of Catholic leaders who have spoken positively about same-gender relationships and unions, click here.
For more information on how to be welcoming to married same-gender couples, click here.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 16, 2021