Pastoral workers in Germany released an open letter to protest one archdiocese’s reprimand of a priest who allegedly blessed a same-gender couple earlier this year.
The letter comes from the organizers of #mehrSegen (“More Blessings”), a German initiative to continue expanding access to such blessings in the church. The letter is addressed to Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, who serves as president of the German Bishops’ Conference.
Fr. Burkhard Hose and Fr. Bernd Mönkebüscher penned the letter and explained why they wrote it. Queer.de quoted from the document (via Google Translate):
“In the case of the Archdiocese of Paderborn, a priest was given a monitum, i.e. a canonical admonition by the bishop, in the summer of 2021. ‘The basis for the action against the priest were photos from a blessing service showing two men in front of a kneeling bench. The disciplined priest was told that the photos also showed a tray with two rings and other people attending which suggested a public service’, so [said] the open letter. Although the blessing ceremony did not involve asking for a consensus or wrapping the stole around the hands, the archdiocese held on to the accusation of simulating the sacraments.”
The letter suggested that if priests and pastoral ministers were sanctioned for every photo of a blessing ceremony, it would promote “an ominous spy” in the church by people with ill will. The letter continued:
“This makes ‘every public blessing impossible’: ‘We and many pastors are disappointed that neither the intention of the pastor nor the religious background of the participants [mattered], but only what others (maliciously?) could read and misunderstand from it. We expect that denouncing will be stopped, threatening [contexts] will be dismantled and legal measures against pastors who bless same-sex couples will be avoided.”
Hose and Mönkebüscher noted how two German bishops, Felix Genn of Münster and Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen, explicitly stated pastoral workers would not be sanctioned for blessing same-gender couples. The two authors asked for a uniform policy so such discrepancies do not exist, harming some priests. The two authors were the same organizers of the #liebegewinnt (“Love Wins”) campaign earlier this year in which many Catholics celebrated more than 100 blessing events for couples.
In addition to the criticism, Hose and Mönkebüscher also used their open letter to affirm the work of the Synodal Way. Queer.de reported:
“In the open letter, Mönkebüscher and Hose praise the preparations in the Synodal Way, which, as a committee of clergy and laypeople, is developing reform proposals: ‘We support the goal that can be seen in the current presentation of [working group] Synodal Forum IV for the basic text with regard to the blessing celebrations are a first step in the right direction, even if, from our point of view, they are still too defensively working on outdated ecclesiastical sexual morals.’ The open letter is also addressed to the Synodal Forum.”
On a related note, in anticipation of the Synodal Way’s next assembly (September 30 – October 2), Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg published a new website that will host alternative, more conservative texts to those compiled so far by the Synodal Way’s working groups, according to Katholisch.de.
The alternative text related to Forum IV, which addresses sexual morality, was posted by Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and three other participants in that forum, Auxiliary Bishop Herwig Gössl of Bamber, Johannes Brantl, and Katharina Westerhorstmann, the latter two of whom are theologians. The alternative text was “already written in May 2020 and has now been given an up-to-date introduction,” reported Katholisch.de. It rejects Forum IV’s primary text, which spoke positively about same-gender couples, as diverging from orthodox Christian anthroplogy. The alternative text from Oster and his colleagues seeks to refocus the discussion on human sinfulness in a direction that could be LGBTQ-negative, though the alternative text avoids any explicit reference to LGBTQ issues.
Finally, the president of Germany’s Caritas affiliate, Peter Neher, affirmed the need for change in how the church understands sexual ethics. Katholisch.de quoted him as saying, “The world simply does not perceive the church’s arguments to be true.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 27, 2021