Will Germany’s Synodal Way, especially its rethinking of church teachings about sexuality and the question of blessing same-gender couples, lead to a schism? Some conservative observers have sounded alarms. As a day of blessing such relationships kicks off in that country and Switzerland today, Bondings 2.0 provides the latest updates on these related developments in the German-speaking world, and takes a look at the question of schism.
There are more than 75 events planned for today’s day of blessings as part of the #liebegewinnt (Love Wins) campaign.
Ahead of today, the Diocese of Essen hosted a virtual gathering titled “Blessings for all. Blessing celebrations for same-sex couples” at the end of April. This symposium, reported the diocesan website, was postponed from its 2020 date due to the pandemic. The diocesan report noted that the Vatican’s March 15th ban on such blessings gave the debate renewed energy. The report stated:
“However, there was no one among the around 100 participants in the conference who would have questioned the urgent need for these blessing celebrations, which would have been helpful for the exchange of arguments, said Michael Dörnemann, head of the pastoral department in the diocese of Essen who, together with Andrea Qualbrink, consultant for strategy and development, and Jens Oboth, lecturer at the Catholic Academy “Die Wolfsburg”, were responsible for the [symposium]. Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck had entered into a dialogue with his priests, knowing full well that ‘there are no simple solutions and we have to endure contradictions’, said [Essen] Vicar General Pfeffer and he followed up with the request: ‘We want to stay together in these charged times – without quarrels.’ At the moment, some dioceses are jointly developing a handout on the topic, which will also contain a proposal for the course of a blessing ceremony.”
Despite an environment open to conversations about such blessings, a gay church worker Rainer Teuber said ceremonies have still been “under the radar.” (Last year, Teuber was one of several people featured in a series of videos by the Diocese of Essen on LGBTQ issues.) Teuber commented:
“Only rainbow flags and hidden blessings are not enough for me and my husband. . .Those who give blessings will give an account of their blessings before God – not in front of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome.”
Theologians whose research areas are systematics, ethics, and Scripture also weighed in at the symposium. All of them expressed the need for the church to move forward in its teaching on sexuality and same-gender relationships. Benedikt Kranemann, a liturgist, called for blessings that include the exchange of rings, which has been a point of controversy even among church leaders who support some form of blessing. The diocesan report explained:
“. . .Because the ring has a high symbolic value in Western culture: ‘Blessing celebrations are high forms of Christian liturgy, comparable to baptism’ – and a ‘litmus test’ for how serious the church is with its new view of same-sex partnerships, said Kranemann.”
But this week’s blessing events show that some German Catholics are not waiting on church leaders to catch up. CBS News reported on some the events:
“St. Marien-KircheNordstraße said they will hang a banner above the main entrance of the church: ‘You love each other? We bless you!’
“‘This is how it should be: We would like to celebrate and bless the gift of love with everyone “who love each other,” all couples, friendships, love relationships. All who reflect the colorfulness of God’s love in their lives!’ the church said in the description for their event, which will be held on May 9.
“St. Gertrud Bochum Wattenscheid will hold an online church service via Zoom. The topic of the youth service: ‘Love is love … in all its diversity. And we celebrate.’
“‘A blessing service for all lovers – we don’t exclude anyone!’ reads the description for the event at St. AntoniusHolsteiner Straße.”
With the prospect of German and Swiss Catholics blessing same-gender couples today, and the larger Synodal Way process in which Catholic understandings of sexuality and relationships are being reconsidered, Cardinal Camillo Ruini raised the specter of schism, reported The Boston Pilot. Ruini is the former president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference and former vicar general for the Diocese of Rome. Other bishops, including Australia’s Cardinal George Pell and England’s Bishop Philip Egan have argued the Synodal Way in Germany might mean a “de facto schism” emerges.
Despite these warnings, most of Germany’s bishops resist the idea that the conversations now underway will be schismatic. Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, flat out denied this would happen, according to Katholisch.de. He said the matter at hand is to “discuss the topic of successful relationships in a far-reaching context.” This approach is guided by the Catholic principle of subsidiarity whereby the “steps we as a local Church can freely regulate and decide” are assessed and answered, adding, “Our connection to Rome and the Holy Father is very close.”
Raising the possibility of schism appears to be an attempt by conservative Catholics to stifle the lively, life-giving process in Germany that is the Synodal Way. A new evaluation of the church’s teachings and practices on many issues, including LGBTQ inclusion, is most needed today. Like so much of church history, the debates about how to proceed will be complex, even messy. Catholics will experiment as they did after Vatican II to test what is of the Spirit and what is not. All of this will take time to unfold, which is a difficult ask in a hurried modern world. But it is almost certain that today’s actions by German and Swiss Catholics will not lead to schism, for what can the blessing of love in all its varied forms be but of the Spirit?
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 10, 2021