German Bishop Calls for Church to Apologize for Harming Lesbian/Gay People

Bishop Felix Genn

A senior bishop in Germany has suggested the church apologize for harming lesbian and gay people.

Bishop Felix Geen of Münster made his suggestion in an interview with Kirche und Leben, a diocesan publication. La Croix International reported:

“[Genn said] that the German-language group at the Synod of Bishops’ assemblies in 2014 and 2015 had submitted a statement for the final Synod document that contained such an apology.

“‘The text was not included in the final (2015) Synod document but, as far as I know, an apology is one of the issues being discussed at the Synodal way,” he said.

“It was not clear if he was referring to the ongoing German synodal process (der synodale Weg) or preparations for the next worldwide assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2023.

“In any case, the 71-year-old bishop said he ‘would be very glad if we were able to discuss’ a way to apologize to homosexuals.”

Genn is one of Germany’s most senior bishops, as well as being the country’s representative on the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. In the latter role,  Genn “repeatedly made it clear during meetings at the Vatican that both issues — women’s ordination and homosexual blessings — are more than just moral or dogmatic questions.” He not only participated in the synods but is a sought after advisor in Rome,

In the interview, the bishop also addressed Germany’s Synodal Way process, which gives hope to more progressive Catholics, but raises fear among conservatives, including some curial officials. Genn rejected the idea that the German church was splintering off, saying:

“‘We don’t want to leave the universal Church. We want to remain Catholic. . .But we want to create a space for completely open discussion of the crucial questions that are on the table. And this should take place synodally – that is to say through listening both to the facts and the emotions which these trigger, as also to the facts of church tradition and World Church consensus and dissent. We will then see where the Spirit leads us.'”

Genn added, “. . .its fabulous that Pope Francis is enlarging what we (in Germany) call the ‘Synodal Path’ into a worldwide procedure in which we can all learn what it means to be a synodal Church.”

Genn’s call for an apology is a welcome step forward, and builds momentum for an apology that extends beyond individual church leaders. It echoes Pope Francis’ own words about reconciliation between the church and groups it has mistreated, including lesbian and gay people.

Some bishops have sought to make amends individually. Most recently, in a more limited way, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington apologized to fired lesbian church worker Margie Winters. This past May, Croatian Archbishop Mate Uzinić, the coadjutor of Rijeka, used the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia to express regret lesbian and gay people have been rejected by Catholics. Other examples exist, too.

The challenge is that these apologies remain somewhat local, and can be, like in Genn’s comments, theoretical. The bishops’ words are not themselves an apology, but a call for one. Perhaps this approach is correct because reconciliation needs to happen at higher levels, as when Pope John Paul II apologized during the 2000 Jubilee Year for sins of the church, albeit imperfectly. But while the life of the church finds its footing in synodal processes that could lead to a greater apology, church leaders should be proactive in admitting how damaging the church has been to LGBTQ people for so many years.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 16, 2021

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