Priests are speaking out about why they are participating in the “#liebegewinnt (Love Wins)” campaign this week, which includes more than 100 events in Germany and Switzerland to bless same-gender couples.
Fr. Jan Korditschke, S.J., of Berlin, who will lead a blessing event later this week, told the Associated Press:
“‘I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin. . .I want to celebrate the love of homosexuals with these blessings because the love of homosexuals is something good. . .
“‘I stand behind what I am doing, though it is painful for me that I cannot do it in tune with the church leadership. . .the homophobia of my church makes me angry and I am ashamed of it.'”
Fr. Christian Olding, who helped launch #liebegewinnt, commented, per Yahoo News:
“‘It always has been a little bit kind of a secret. . .This is the first time that we are going this way in society, to do it visibly for everyone.'”
Olding led a service of blessing on May 10th, which Kirche+Leben reported on (via Google Translate):
“. . .[Fr.] Christian Olding is standing in the church of St. Martin in Geldern, Lower Rhine, and puts his hands on the heads of two men. ‘The Lord bless you,’ murmurs Olding: ‘He let his face shine on you.’ Holger and Lennart Woltering, who have been legally married since 2017, are both active as singers in the Gelden parish. ‘I got all the emotions like at the wedding,’ says 30-year-old Holger after the blessing: ‘With a tingling sensation in my stomach. Madness.’ . . .
“In St. Martin, a romantic pop song is playing over the loudspeakers and a rainbow flag hangs on the front of the altar. Pastor Olding and retired pastor Heiner Dresen put on mouth and nose protection in rainbow colors. Then they go from pair to pair, put their hands on their heads and say the blessings. The lovers hold hands, a man and a woman look deep into each other’s eyes, two men have their arms around their waists. There are 35 couples in total, including homosexuals, heterosexuals, married, divorced and unmarried people.”
Neither of these priests, nor Fr. Klaus Nelissen, one of the organizers of the blessings, indicate any concern about repercussions from their bishops for performing blessing ceremonies. Olding said there may be consequences, but he is undeterred. Nelissen explained that the May 10th date was chosen, in part, because Mondays are priests’ days off in many cases, commenting, “No bishop can tell them not to do it, since they are doing it on their own time.”
These priests have the backing of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), which has endorsed the “Liebe Gewinnt” (“Love Wins”) campaign which arranged the blessings. Birgit Mock, a ZdK spokesperson and co-leader of the Synodal Way’s working group on sexuality and relationships, planned to attend one of the blessing ceremonies for same-gender couples. She told AP:
“‘These are celebrations of worship in which people express to God what moves them. . .The fact that they ask for God’s blessing and thank him for all the good in their lives — also for relationships lived with mutual respect and full of love — that is deeply based on the Gospel.'”
The U.S. based Catholic LGBTQ organization New Ways Ministry said in a statement that it “strongly supports” these Catholics and “their witness of bringing God’s grace to people who are asking for a blessing of their love is an example which we hope will spread to other nations.
What will follow this week’s actions is unclear. No German bishop has issued their support for the blessing events, though at least two have said they will not sanction priests who participate. The German Bishops’ Conference’s president, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, criticized the events as being unhelpful and political.
But nonetheless, the German bishops’ news outlet, Katholisch.de, has let the conversation continue. Two opinion pieces were published on the site by supporters of same-gender blessings who each have different ideas of what will happen after the ceremonies. Julia Knop, a theologian at the University of Erfurt, wrote that rather than political, the blessing ceremonies this week are indeed helpful, even “therapeutic.” They are less a protest against the Vatican’s ban on such blessings and more an act of solidarity with LGBTQ people harmed by the church. Knop writes (via Google Translate):
“And because it is about them, Catholic pastors and parishes set a contrasting signal of church solidarity with their request for blessings, their prayer and their solidarity. They are convinced that they have no authority to refuse God’s blessings. The injuries that people have suffered in the name and in the space of the Church go to their souls. They want to do something well because they are painfully aware of the wounds that Roman writing has (re)opened. They want to give their church a friendly, friendly, credible face – in spite of everything.”
Erik Flügge, a professor in communications who supports same-gender blessings, issued a warning however that the movement for equality could go too far. He writes:
“And now? Now the question of every protest movement arises: How do we go on? What could the next sign be? How do we increase the pressure? What is there on top of the already controversial blessing services? I’m sorry, but in our case this is the wrong question. The right one is to ask yourself how you can now slowly get back down from the tree.”
Flügge’s point is that the blessing ceremonies, and the protests preceding them, are majority victories. The Vatican has lost authority because thousands of Catholics openly defied its ban, including church workers and priests, he observes. But he also cautions:
“For those German bishops who also want a change in doctrine, this protest gives tailwind – but only if it does not escalate further now. An increasingly radical protest will force one to distance oneself from it. A calm one, however, is a strong argument in Rome. The argument is very simple: we don’t want to rekindle this fire. One understands that in Rome too.”
Flügge’s proposal is to hold back on further protests and return to the Synodal Way as the appropriate forum for these discussions to now unfold because “this is precisely the work that is worthwhile in the long term and is slowly changing the church in small steps.”
German and Swiss priests and pastoral ministers have taken courageous actions to live into a church that not only welcomes LGBTQ people, but celebrates our love and relationships. Catholics elsewhere must consider how we can build on what German Catholics have begun, and indeed what risks we can take as acts of faith, to join that celebration of love.
For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the debate over blessing same-gender couples in the church, including updates on the situation in Germany, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 11, 2021