Two bishops in Germany have contributed essays to a new book on Catholicism and LGBTQ issues, and in it they question the hierarchy’s traditional position on sexual morality.
The essays by Bishops Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen and Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden are in a book entitled Catholic and Queer, which calls for the Magisterium to update its sexual morality teachings. According to the National Catholic Reporter:
“Homosexual partnerships, transgender issues and diversity must be re-evaluated on the basis of new understandings of sexuality, Timmerevers wrote in the book, published this week.
“For centuries, the church ‘misjudged people and left them alone with their situation and sensitivities and de facto put them on the side-lines,’ the bishop said. ‘Here we have committed injustice and have also become guilty.'”
Bishop Overbeck wrote in his essay:
“[I reject] the adherence to a sexual morality which, for example, wants to practically deny people who love someone of the same sex the possibility of a successful and fulfilling relationship. The life experiences and deep feelings of those who are homosexual or transgender have touched me very deeply. Church teaching must integrate these concrete testimonies of life.”
Overbeck believes that Pope Francis, in his statement supporting same-gender couples’ right for legal protection, has opened “a new form of appreciation that can be the starting point for a (local church) re-evaluation of homosexuality.” Pope Francis’ statement brought hope to LGBTQ Catholics and their future in the church, yet that hope was deflated somewhat when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) banned blessing same-gender couples. German Catholics pushed back against the CDF’s statement by organizing a campaign called Liebe Gewinnt (Love Wins) in which, priests, parish ministers, and parishioners blessed same-gender couples and stressed that they were welcome in their churches.
The book Catholic and Queer features other stories of LGBTQ persons and their experiences in the church, as well as from family members, ministers, theologians, and organizations.
The essays by Timmerevers and Overbeck are but the bishops’ latest calls for a re-evaluation of the institutional church’s approach to LGBTQ issues. The former challenged the CDF’s ban on blessings as “disappointing” at the time it was announced.
For his part, Overbeck has said “why not” when asked about blessings and has expressed his support for blessings several times. And even after the CDF ban, the Diocese of Essen under the bishop’s leadership held a virtual symposium on the topic this April. Overbeck said personally that no priest who participated in Germany’s blessing protests would be sanctioned. He has said the church needs to fundamentally reassess its approach to homosexuality. In 2019, Overbeck defied the Vatican’s ban on gay men in the priesthood. He allowed the story of a married gay church worker to appear in the diocesan magazine the following year, too.
It is time for the Magisterium to examine sexuality in light of modern anthropology, sociology, psychology, and biology. Understandings of human sexuality have developed greatly since the early church fathers, whose thinking still strongly influences doctrine. Catholic theology teaches us that our relationship with humanity and with God is ever evolving. If we did not consider revelation or accept humanity’s evolution in how we relate to one another, church teaching would still support slavery and the death penalty. Until the Magisterium opens up to modern sciences and the sensus fidelium, the faith of the people, it is up to us as the church to welcome LGBTQ persons with love and respect.
—Elise Dubravec (sher/her), New Ways Ministry, December 8, 2021