Delegates of Germany’s Synodal Way voted for three LGBTQ-positive texts last week, including calls for the church to bless LGBTQ couples and reconsider teachings on homosexuality.
Gathered for their third assembly, the Synodal Way’s members approved all fourteen proposals before them with broad majorities. Three documents relating to LGBTQ issues had first readings affirmed, meaning they will continue to be developed by the working group on sexuality and relationships, and then brought up for a binding vote at a later assembly. [Editor’s note: The following uses Google Translate for translations of the German texts.]
One text proposed that bishops allow church blessings for people in relationships which cannot be recognized through sacramental marriage. The text explicitly identifies same-gender couples as deserving of blessings, and was affirmed by roughly 80% of delegates. The text explains in its rationale:
“The refusal to bless two people who want to live their partnership in love, commitment and responsibility to one another and to God proves to be merciless or even discriminatory in a society that has achieved human dignity and free self-determination as a maxim of moral standardization.”
The text on blessings, which also references people who are divorced and civilly remarried and people who are not ready to marry, suggests it would resolve the present “situation of ambiguity and inconsistency” in which there is a conflict between teaching and practice. The text therefore advocates the creation of a manual with common norms, educational content, and liturgical rites:
- “The [proposed] manual includes suggested forms for blessing celebrations that differ from marriage, in the context of the Liturgy of the Word or the Eucharist.
- “Analogously to other celebrations, such a celebration can be presided over by priests and deacons as well as persons with an episcopal service commission. . .
- “No pastor who conducts such a blessing ceremony has to expect disciplinary consequences in Germany. An obligation to lead such a celebration is not imposed on anyone.”
A second text, which received nearly 90% yes votes, seeks a reassessment of the church’s teachings on homosexuality that integrates knowledge from both contemporary theology and the sciences. More specifically, the text, if approved in a second reading, would recommend that Pope Francis undertake this reassessment with the global church. The goal is that homosexuality would be considered a normal variation of human sexuality. In a section titled “Implications,” the text reads, in part:
“1. In the course of this reassessment of homosexuality, among other things, passages 2357-2359 and 2396 (homosexuality and chastity) of the World Catechism should be revised. Likewise, the relevant passages in the Compendium of Catechism (2005; n. 492) should be changed. In the compendium, ‘homosexual acts’ must be removed from the list of ‘major sins against chastity.’
“2. It follows from this re-evaluation of homosexuality that no person is denied the assumption of church offices and the receipt of priestly ordination because they are homosexual.
“3. Homosexuality is not a disease. Therefore, conversion therapies should be rejected. They are not medically indicated. In pastoral care, self-determination must be respected and the integration of sexuality into the person must be supported. No one should be persuaded that their homosexual orientation and the realization of it in their life history are inherently sinful.”
The rationale for this reassessment notes that in Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis has “presented an expanded view of fertility. . .[that] is not only manifested biologically and generatively, but also as a contribution to society.” The text also implores that developments in scripture scholarship and modern science be incorporated into church teaching.
Finally, a third text addressed laws involving church workers’ rights, which was approved with more than 90% of the vote. This text suggests that there is an “overemphasis” on private, often sexuality-related matters in current law, and goes so far as to describe such an approach as “discriminatory” against “employees who live contrary to the traditional church sexual morality.” The text even suggests that in being this way, “the church as an employer stands in the way of witnessing God’s love for all people.” The proposal follows:
“The basic order in Article 4 should no longer make it possible in the future for decisions to be taken in favor of a legally regulated or non-banned form of partnership as a violation of duties of loyalty and accordingly prevent employment in church service or bring about the termination of an existing employment relationship. The personal marital status must not have any relevance for employment or further employment in church service.”
Other texts approved by the assembly included a call for the admission of women to ordained ministry and for opening the priesthood to married men, as well as greater input of lay people in the selection of bishops. Katholisch.de reported that the assembly was spoken of favorably by many high-ranking church leaders, lay and clergy alike, though with some bishops sought to temper expectations.
What happened last week in Germany is just short of revolutionary. That not only lay people, but a majority of the nation’s bishops would like to continue developing documents favoring same-gender blessings and revisions to church teaching is unprecedented. And while these votes were only for first readings, the majorities which approved them bode well for when binding votes do occur at a future assembly. In the words of assembly member Gregor Podschun, chair of the Federation of German Catholic Youth:
“The church has caused great suffering to queer people. Now we are at a point of change, and we can change that. The church can again get close to people.”
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 8, 2022