The German bishops have reformed church employment policies to recommend that church workers in same-gender relationships or who are divorced and remarried should not lose their jobs because of personal situations.
The “Basic Order of Church Employment“ amendment, issued by Germany’s bishops, will protect around 800,000 church employees in the country, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Previously, an employee’s personal relationship could be reasonable grounds for termination. Now, the guideline states that an “employee’s private lifestyle [will] no longer be a reason for dismissal” because it is “beyond reach of the employer.” The German church is the largest non-governmental employer in the country.
The amendment was decided on at the German Bishops’ Conference assembly in late November after more than two-thirds of the bishops voted for the reform. However, the new changes to the Basic Order of Church Employment is initially “only a recommendation to the dioceses” and “each diocesan bishop maintains the responsibility to implement it or not.”
The amendment is designed to create a “church that serves the people” regardless of their “origin, religion, age, disability, gender, sexual identity and way of life.”
The discussion on revising the Basic Order of Church Employment is not new. In 2015, an amendment to the guidelines was denied because three bishops “had reservations and delayed implementing the changes.” Now, the hope is that the new regulations are implemented in all dioceses as quickly as possible.
Although the amendment will allow for inclusive employment, some rules will still be in place to preserve Catholic tradition. For example, certain jobs, such as pastoral care or preaching, may require applicants to be Catholic. In addition, activity deemed “hostile to the church” may limit employment opportunities.
According to the German Caritas Association, a Catholic social welfare organization, the amendment is necessary. Eva Maria Welskop-Deffaa, the group’s president, stated:
“We want to show that all people of goodwill are invited to be Caritas together with us, regardless of age and gender, of skin color and sexual identity, regardless of whether they are married, single or divorced after remarriage.”
Irme Stetter-Karp, president of the Central Committee of German Catholics, commented about the reform she called “overdue”:
“I now assume that the scrutiny and the sanctioning of people in church employment are a thing of the past at this point. Instead, the church itself takes responsibility for ensuring that the institution is perceived as Christian. This paradigm shift is important.”
Although the reform may be “overdue,” Germany’s bishops take a further step in making the nation’s Catholics leaders on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. By critically analyzing their current policies and not being afraid to make revisions, the German church is becoming more welcoming and inclusive. If the amendment is fully implemented, LGBTQ+ employees will not have to fear dismissal because of their private relationships, which could perhaps lead to more LGBTQ+ representation in Catholic spaces.
However, as much as the bishops deserve credit, so, too, do LGBTQ+ church workers in Germany who courageously participated in the #OutInChurch campaign at the start of 2022. More than 125 such church workers publicly came out in a call for greater equality, including specific reforms to the church’s employment policies that are now won. Their efforts were essential in pushing church leaders forward. This reform in the German church’s employment policies proves that the Catholic faithful have real power to implement change.
—Sarah Cassidy (she/her), New Ways Ministry, November 30, 2022