Ahead of planned church blessings for same-gender couples on May 10th, a German bishop has said priests and pastoral ministers must follow their consciences on whether to participate. Another bishop in Germany, however, has expressed his concerns about the upcoming blessings action.
The National Catholic Reporter outlined the response of several German church leaders, including that of Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen who made the comments about conscience:
“Birgit Mock, vice president of the Catholic German Women’s Federation, said: ‘The current discussion could lead to a historic step: a positive appreciation of responsibly lived sexuality in the Catholic Church in Germany.’
“Mock and Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen head one of four working groups of the Synodal Path reform project. Their group deals with sexual morality, and the church’s approach to homosexuality is among its topics.
“Dieser has made clear that his office does not allow him to give a mandate to bless gay couples, but added: ‘In the case of requests to bless same-sex couples, pastoral ministers are bound by their conscience.’
“Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German bishops’ conference, criticized the blessing services. ‘They are not suitable as an instrument of church-political manifestations or protest actions,’ he said.”
Katholisch.de reported further that Dieser appealed to pastoral workers “not to put each other under pressure on this issue and neither to politicize nor polemicize the matter.” Both Dieser and Bätzing have previously expressed their support for the church finding a way to bless same-gender couples.
As of Wednesday, approximately 70 events for the “Love Wins” campaign will be held in Germany and Switzerland. These events will include blessings celebrating “the diversity of people’s different life plans and love stories,” focused on, but not limited to, LGBTQ relationships.
“Love Wins” is a direct refutation of the Vatican’s ban on blessing such couples issued in March. The campaign began with a petition against the ban launched by Frs. Burkhard Hose and Bernd Mönkebüscher that has since been signed by more than 11,000 church workers. (For Bondings 2.0’s ongoing reporting on this ban and responses to it, click here.)
Asked about the May 10th date, Hose explained that it is a day celebrating Noah in the Orthodox Church, and the rainbow of God’s covenant with Noah is similar to the rainbow colors celebrating LGBTQ identities.
Too often, priests and pastoral ministers operate from a place of fear instilled by church leaders’ warnings and sanctions. These sanctions are selectively applied to certain issues, gender and sexuality questions being foremost among them. Such a repressive approach, so favored by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, has been rejected by Pope Francis.
Now, the current pope’s quest for reform is bearing fruit in Germany where Bishop Dieser joins Essen’s Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck in affirming publicly the conscience rights of priests. These bishops’ approach shows an appreciation for pastoral workers not as subordinates, but as partners in ministry whose mature faith is to be respected as together they seek to meet the needs of their communities. Whether or not priests end up blessing same-gender couples on May 10th, the doors have opened in Aachen and Essen for continued dialogue and experimental praxis.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 5, 2021