A top German bishop has said he is “firmly convinced” that church teachings on homosexuality and same-gender blessings will change, while expressing disappointment in some of Pope Francis’ reform efforts.
“Bätzing was ‘firmly convinced’ that present church teaching on homosexuality must be changed and that it would change in the foreseeable future as it was seen as discriminating against gays.
“As for gay blessings, he would never discipline any priest who blessed a gay couple, but he had never done so himself. That was because, on the one hand, he felt obliged to obey the Pope and secondly because if he did, it would attract public attention. ‘And then attention would be concentrated on what I was doing and not on what the couple being blessed desired.’
“This meant he himself was having to perform a balancing act between Church teaching and his own reading of the sensus fidelium (the intuitive beliefs of the body of the faithful). He claimed the two did not make a good fit.
“‘I’m proclaiming Church teaching – which is my duty – but at the same time I’m fully aware that this teaching is no longer accepted by the faithful. The sensus fidelium has gone further,’ he claimed.
“‘That is something that we must take up theologically and it will lead to changes. That is what I am committed to. I am fully convinced that things will change.'”
Bätzing, however, was critical of Pope Francis when it comes to reform efforts. While acknowledging the Synod on Synodality was progress, and that “all groups, including LGBT groups, will be able to participate,” the bishop criticized the pope for a “certain circular discussion culture.” Bätzing cited the pope’s rejection of a proposal to ordain married men at the Synod on the Amazon as evidence of this problem, and continued, per The Tablet:
“‘Discussion of the issue has not, however, ceased and it will not cease just because the Pope didn’t take it up. Neither will there be less discussion of women’s ordination just because the Pope is of a different opinion. I’ve spoken to Pope Francis several times now and I know he has a decidedly different opinion [on these issues],’ Bätzing said.
“For this reason Bätzing did not foresee fundamental reforms on such issues as women’s ordination or priestly celibacy within the next five years. That meant that ‘those who only have their eyes on the priestly celibacy issue or on the question of women’s ordination are certainly in for a disappointment. Neither of these issues will be resolved within the next five years.'”
The substance of Bishop Bätzing’s comments, namely that the Catholic faithful are moving beyond condemning queer people and that Bätzing himself is very pro-LGBTQ, is generally well-known already. This blog has carried many stories about both topics. What is remarkable in these latest comments, though, is just how forthright the bishop is about where his beliefs and church teaching clash and about criticizing the pope for not pursuing greater reform. One positive result of the Synodal Way discussions happening in Germany is the humble, honest engagement of the country’s bishops with the faithful. It would be great if Bishop Bätzing’s example of cordial and frank discourse would spread globally in the church.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 25, 2022