A German archbishop has apologized again to lesbian, bisexual, and gay people for the church’s mistreatment of them, saying this mistreatment was an “unholy line of tradition.”
Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin made his apology during a prayer service, which occurred on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia. According to the National Catholic Reporter:
“Homophobia was an ‘unholy line of tradition’ in the Catholic Church, Koch said May 17 during an ecumenical service in the Protestant Twelve Apostles Church in Berlin.
“The German Catholic news agency KNA said he called for respect for the dignity of every human being, regardless of their sexual orientation, and announced that the Archdiocese of Berlin would take measures to ensure this.
“The archbishop said each parish would have commissioners to counter such discrimination. He pledged to intervene personally if employees of the archdiocese were threatened with consequences under church labor law on the grounds of their sexual orientation. He added that he was not aware of any such case in the archdiocese so far, KNA reported.”
This apology follows a 2014 intervention at the Synod on the Family at which Koch also raised the issue of a church apology to groups, including gay people, against whom the church had exhibited “hard and merciless attitudes.” He then commented, “As Bishops of our Church we are asking these people for forgiveness.”
The promise to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination builds on Koch’s 2021 announcement that he would be appointing an archdiocesan official tasked with LGBTQ outreach. Since being named as archbishop by Pope Francis in 2015, Koch has taken a number of other LGBTQ-positive steps. The archbishop has visited a center for queer migrants, participated for gay victims of the Nazi regime, met with LGBTQ groups in the Berlin area, and issued a statement that homosexuality was “normal.” While he opposed Germany’s passage of marriage equality in 2017, he has spoken positively about queer couples, and alluded to supporting civil protections fo, and church blessings of, LGBTQ couples.
Koch’s influence extends beyond his archdiocese, as he has served as chair for the German Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for Marriage and Family since 2014.
Advances on LGBTQ issues in the German church seem to be happening almost daily. Just this week, Bondings 2.0 reported on a German bishop’s attendance at a blessing liturgy inclusive of LGBTQ couples. And, when it comes to apologies, in March Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising offered his own message on behalf of the church during a Mass celebrating LGBTQ pastoral ministry in that archdiocese.
While the headlines are often about church leaders’ actions, it must be remembered that these statements are the fruits of decades of grassroots activism by Catholics. And while the news is quite good, it must not slow or stop that activism because apologies are but a necessary first step in the path of reconciliation.
If you are curious about why such positive developments are possible and happening in Germany, see Catholic LGBTQ leader Michael Brinkschröder’s original commentary for Bondings 2.0here.
You can also read a piece by Mara Klein, a young, non-binary participant in the country’s Synodal Way process here.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 20, 2022