A member of Pope Francis’ commission on women deacons has come to the defense of a theologian who used slurs against gay priests and was then fined by a German court for hate speech. This defense comes as tensions over the court case heat up.
Previously, Bondings 2.0 reported that Polish theologian Fr. Dariusz Oko faced fines in German court for publishing an article in the journal Theologisches in which he referred to gay priests, among other slurs, as a “colony of parasites” and a “cancerous growth” in the church. (Another editor of the journal, Fr. Johannes Stöhr, has also been fined.)
Now, the main editor of Theologisches, Fr. Manfred Hauke, has come to Oko’s defense. Katholisch.de reported (via Google Translate):
“Oko used ‘strong expressions’ in his article, which, if taken out of context, could possibly be understood as denigrating people with homosexual inclinations, Hauke said on Tuesday when asked by katholisch.de. ‘That would of course be a misunderstanding,’ said the German theologian, who teaches dogmatics in Lugano, Switzerland. Anyone who criticizes the Sicilian Mafia is ultimately not turning against the Sicilians in general.
“Hauke explained that Oko’s text, which appeared in the January / February 2021 issue, was by no means about people with homosexual tendencies in general, but specifically about ‘a clique, a lobby that does not shy away from criminal methods’. Specific examples of this are given in the article.”
Hauke also questioned the motives of Fr. Wolfgang Rothe, the priest whose report to government authorities about Oko’s article led to the hate speech charges and subsequent fine. Hauke suggested that Theologisches would never publish seditious material, as Rothe and the court claim, but it would defend the right to free expression, even if views are at odds with the editorial staff.
Besides editing the journal and teaching theology, Hauke is also a member of the pope’s second commission on women deacons that began in 2020. Hauke joins another Vatican official in defending Oko, namely Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, who compared the German court’s fine to the Nazis worst atrocities against Poland.
Oko and Stöhr’s case will now proceed to trial given their appeal of the fine. In the meantime, Rothe has been subjected to threats and harassment. The Competence Center for Democracy and Human Dignity in the Catholic Church in Bavaria condemned these attacks. Katholisch.de reported (via Google Translate):
“According to the statement, Rothe and the German judiciary are ‘exposed to a campaign of defamation by some Polish media and Polish politicians, including ministerial circles’. The Competence Center expressly supports Rothes concern to counter homophobic agitation in church and society. In the Catholic Church there should be ‘no room for hate speech in the context of controversial issues’. Hatred, agitation and the blanket condemnation of population groups should not be part of a theological or church debate. ‘In the Catholic Church in particular, there has to be a respectful interaction with one another that takes into account the Christian message of charity.'”
There are legal questions in this case that will be addressed elsewhere. From an ecclesial perspective though, this conflict could have been avoided altogether if Theologisches’ editors exercised more discretion. Fr. Oko’s rights would not violated by a theological journal refusing to publish unnecessarily nasty language. Someone may have the freedom to express problematic views, but there is no right to be published or given a platform. Fr. Hauke’s defense of the journal publishing slurs against gay priests falls far short.
Discourse across divergent views should be encouraged, especially in the church where some views have too often been suppressed, but some boundaries are needed to keep it respectful. Referring to a group of people as a “colony of parasites” is undeniably outside those boundaries.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 30, 2021