Vicars general from various German dioceses have sent a letter to the country’s bishops conference asking for immediate protections for LGBTQ church workers as labor law reforms are worked out. And in a related story, a German bishop has spoken out in support of gay priests.
Eleven vicars general, who are the chief administrators in their dioceses wrote to the head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg. Katholisch.de reported:
“[The vicars general] demanded in the letter an immediate waiver of consequences under labor laws for queer and remarried employees. In addition, the revision of the basic [labor] regulations should be completed by the summer. In addition to [Trier’s Ulrich von] Plettenberg, the vicars general of the (arch)dioceses of Berlin, Essen, Hamburg, Hildesheim, Limburg, Magdeburg, Münster, Paderborn, Speyer and the military bishop’s office signed the letter.
“In the past few days, several German dioceses had already declared that they would not have any consequences under labor law, including Würzburg, Osnabrück Essen, Münster, Paderborn and Aachen.”
Plettenberg, vicar general for the Diocese of Trier who organized the open letter, also wrote a letter to church workers in his diocese assuring them that “he did not consider labor law sanctions in connection with personal life to be appropriate” and that there would be no firings on these grounds, according to Katholisch.de. The media report continued:
“The vicar general went on to say that in this way he wanted to contribute to the staff experiencing the church as a fear-free space and having the certainty that their license to teach and their job did not depend on their sexual orientation and their private relationship status. At the same time, he encourages all other ecclesiastical legal entities and employees in the Diocese of Trier to make similar commitments.”
One bishop, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, said that implementing these voluntary protections was premature, as further reflection was needed. He disagreed with the claim that “every aspect of private life is irrelevant to labor law.” He previously has expressed support for LGBTQ church workers, rejecting the idea they should face a double standard.
In related news, Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart offered his support for gay priests on the condition they remain celibate. “As with heterosexual priests, celibacy is obligatory for them,” Katholisch.de quoted the bishop as saying.
The ecclesial conversation about German employment law has been in overdrive since 125 LGBTQ church workers came out publicly through the #OutInChurch initiative and called for comprehensive non-discrimination protections. Since then, tens of thousands of German Catholics signed a statement of support and Catholic organizations worldwide expressed their solidarity. Notably, a number of church leaders have also weighed in positively. Some, like Bishop Franz Jung of Würzburg, have even issued preemptive commitments not to fire church workers over their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The question of LGBTQ-related church labor policies was also taken up the Synodal Way’s last assembly earlier this month. A majority of delegates, including a majority of bishops, voted to approve a document to enshrine non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ employees into law. The impact could be significant as the German church is the nation’s second largest employer.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 22, 2022