A German bishop attended an inclusive blessing service for couples and families held as part of a campaign to have the church formally recognize LGBTQ couples.
Bishop Ludger Schepers, an auxiliary for the Diocese of Essen and the German bishop’s liaison for LGBTQ pastoral ministry, is the first bishop known to have attended one of the 80 or so #liebegewinnt (#LoveWins) services celebrated last week, Kathlosich.de reported (via Google Translate).
Similar services were held last year for the first time en masse as a protest against the Vatican’s ban on blessing same-gender couples. This year’s iteration of the protest campaign occurred under different circumstances, as Katholisch.de reported:
“On the one hand, the delegates of the Synodal Way voted in principle during a first reading at the beginning of February for the introduction of blessing ceremonies for couples ‘who want to love and bond, but for whom sacramental marriage is not accessible or who they do not want to enter into’. . .
“On the other hand, the coming out of church employees as part of #OutInChurch attracted a lot of attention. The reactions of many diocesan leaders were benevolent, and it was also announced that there will soon be a change in the basic regulations of church labor law, which will no longer necessarily make the question of the choice of partner for employees an object of loyalty to the church.”
Though the number of blessing services is fewer this year, Jens Ehebrecht-Zumsande, one of the founders of #liebegewinnt, said the campaign was still needed because:
“‘Especially in the episode of #OutInChurch, there was a lot of lip service from bishops and vicars general, but on the level of action, apart from one or the other self-commitment, nothing has happened.'”
And, Katholisch.de reported, there is another angle beyond protest to the blessing services:
“Jens Ehebrecht-Zumsande concedes, there is a protest connected with the campaign – maybe even more so last year than this year. But the focus of the services is pastoral care. ‘It is very important for many people that this offer exists.’ This was also made clear by the feedback from the couples.”
Fr. Bernd Mönkebüscher, another #liebegewinnt founder, rejected criticism from some LGBTQ advocates that the services this year were domesticating or institutionalizing what was initially a grassroots protest. He commented, “If a ‘little ritual’ helps even a queer couple to feel addressed in their faith and love, then it was it not a ‘ritual’ for them, but a blessing.”
Rainer Teuber, a married gay church worker in Essen who participated in #OutInChurch, spoke ofhis desires for greater change. He told 24 World News:
“‘We would like to celebrate it with our community, our family and our circle of friends in our own celebration. . .We definitely don’t want something like, “Okay, we’ll do it, but please don’t shout about it”. This secrecy has to end.’ . . .
“He now hopes that blessing celebrations will be officially permitted as part of the currently ongoing synodal path reform process. ‘However, I would wish that progressive dioceses such as Essen, Hildesheim, Osnabrück, Hamburg and others would not wait for it at all, but would introduce the blessing celebrations now. If eight or nine bishops from Germany go ahead, I hardly believe that those in Rome will all get fired.'”
The Diocese of Essen, where Bishop Schepers is located, had nine blessing services, according to the diocesan website promoting the events. One event was an ecumenical service that brought together Catholic and Protestant church leaders. Another was held at a parish where couples would be individual blessed and then a champagne toast was held. The events were open to all people and families, including LGBTQ ones.
Schepers has been an outspoken LGBTQ advocate in recent years. Earlier this year, he spoke positively about #OutInChurch and said the testimonies of church workers “affected me greatly, but also made me angry at how carelessly they were treated in the church.” He also called for reforms in church teachings about sexuality. In 2016, he said at a conference on gender and the church that Catholics must recognize more gender identities exist than just man and woman.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 18, 2022