In Germany’s Synodal Way, Non-Binary Catholic and Bishop Split on Gendered Language

Mara Klein

As Germany’s Synodal Way again meets today, members are grappling with how the gender binary is affecting both the substance and the language involved in the process.

Mara Klein, a non-binary member of the Synodal Way and church worker, examined the gender binary’s role in the church on the blog kreuz-und-queer.deWriting ahead of the synodal process’ third assembly this week, Klein criticized church teaching as being premised on the idea that only two, complementary sexes exist. They continued:

“It cannot be overlooked how little the Catholic Church is able to speak at all on the subject of queer. Even on the synodal path, homosexuality is mostly spoken of. Other non-heterosexual orientations are unknown or excluded. It seems to me that gender is a topic of anxiety. This applies to the ‘women’s question’ as well as the debate about gender-equitable language, which has been postponed again – now to the fourth synodal assembly, where there will perhaps also be a text on trans and [intersex]. It would also be about transcending the exclusively binary Catholic anthropology of man as (cis) man and (cis) woman.”

Klein noted that recent efforts like #OutInChurch, in which 125 LGBTQ church workers (including Klein) publicly came out, “show impressively how people in the Catholic Church are negatively affected by binary gender anthropology.” Klein stated that simply by being a non-binary member of the Synodal Way, they are “a symbol of the diversity that already exists in the church.” Klein gave a powerful address to the 2020 assembly, calling then for changes in church teaching on gender and sexuality.

Nonetheless, despite Klein’s hope that the process will lead to “a church without fear,” they concluded: “I do not yet dare to guess whether we can expect steps towards an opening of the gender binary under these circumstances.”

Klein’s concerns are quite valid. Among some of the Synodal Way’s 230 members, there is resistance  to dismantling the gender binary or even to using gender-neutral language in the process’ documents.

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer

Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensberg wrote an open letter to the Synodal Way’s leadership, criticizing them for delaying debate on gender-neutral language. Voderholzer said a delay was not needed because the “debate on gender-neutral language had been going on for years and there was enough research on it,” reported America.

The debate was delayed so that there would be time for a synodal discussion group to draft a text about transgender and intersex people. Gender-neutral language in German would include texts with the “gender star,” a noun form that places an asterisk after the stem of the noun “to denote that it refers to all genders, including nonbinary people.”

The bishop objected particularly to the use of the gender star. He stated that its use in the synodal documents would be “an unmistakable commitment to gender ideology and thus a contradiction of biblically based anthropology.” Voderholzer has a reputation as a critic of the Synodal Way as a whole, and he has “launched his own website with counter-positions to the official texts of the Synodal Path.”

The leaders determined to move the debate on gender-neutral language to the fall 2022 assembly, rather than holding it at the assembly beginning today.

But if discussion on the gender binary, gender-neutral language, and trans and intersex identities more generally has been postponed, there will be some LGBTQ items on the agenda this assembly. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “delegates expect to adopt the first binding resolutions on the reform texts. . .[and] the blessing of same-sex couples will be on the agenda in a first reading.”

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the Synodal Way, click here. For more updates on wider LGBTQ developments in the German church, click here.

Grace Doerfler (she/her) and Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 3, 2022

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