Germany’s Franciscan friars have elected an openly gay brother as their new leader, who becomes one of the most high-profile out LGBTQ+ church leader to date.
The friars of the Province of St. Elizabeth, which includes all of Germany, held their provincial chapter earlier this year. Just weeks before it, Br. Markus Fuhrmann came out as gay to his confreres.
Fuhrmann stated that the decision to be out was necessary in allowing him to be truthful to himself and to his values. In an interview with MK—Online, a media outlet of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, Fuhrmann said (via Google Translate):
“‘For me personally it was a question of my own truthfulness. If I live and am active as a religious in this church and also have leadership responsibilities, then I would also like to be able to make it clear who I am and what I stand for. If I’m gay, then I want to show that I can also be part of the church in this ministry. That’s important because it’s not supposed to be like that [exclusion] in the church. Unfortunately, there is far too much institutional hypocrisy in our church. So that there is something that shouldn’t actually be there, but everyone knows that it’s there. I would like to promote seeing this as an opportunity, that we as a church are colorful, that the church is (also) queer, that this is what God wants, that this corresponds to the diversity of creation and is therefore quite normal.”
Fuhrmann, who is the first out Franciscan brother to be elected to the high office, received a positive response from his confreres after coming out. He received a lot of “encouragement” to talk openly about his sexuality, and he hopes that this experience can “spread to other areas of the church.”
Although Fuhrmann received acceptance in his community, he still recognizes that “institutional hypocrisy” of the church. As the new provincial minister, he wants to work to realign the church with marginalized communities, such as women, the poor, and the LGBTQ+ community. He explained:
“‘I see my task above all as standing for a church, for an order that lives the good news of Jesus Church and that wants to open up room for growth. I think that fits well these days, at this time when the church, especially in Germany, wants to realign itself. That we want to be a church that is gender equitable, one that takes a clear stand on the side of the poor and afflicted, and one that is sensitive to issues of sexual morality. Because the way this morality has been officially taught up to now, it does not serve life. It has to change or evolve.”
Fuhrmann prefers reforms, like reconsidering mandatory celibacy for priests and the ordination of women, but he emphasized, too, the need for the church—and his Franciscan community—to journey together as synodality demands. He commented, “I personally stand behind the efforts of the synodal path.”
Besides larger church issues, Fuhrmann plans to address the internal cohesion of his small province. With big houses to manage and fewer friars to manage them, Fuhrmann plans to downsize province property. While this may be an adjustment, he hopes that this change allows the friars to live in closer community with one another.
The decision to elect Br. Fuhrmann as the new provincial minister is a great starting point in paving the way to an inclusive and accepting church. Fuhrmann brings a new perspective to Catholic leadership, which will hopefully inspire other religious communities to assess the church’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ+ people.
—Sarah Cassidy (she/her), New Ways Ministry, November 4, 2022