Germany’s Synodal Way Now Considering Texts on Gender Diversity, LGBTQ+ Blessings

The fifth and final assembly of Germany’s Synodal Way begins today, and among the issues to be decided are two documents on LGBTQ+ issues. However, a last minute controversy is brewing with the bishop members which could imperil reform efforts.

The Synodal Way, a joint venture between the country’s bishops and the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics, will conclude after nearly four years of work. The process has been increasingly controversial, including tension with the Vatican and even Pope Francis, which have expressed concerns with some of the German proposals.

From March 9th to 11th, the more than 200 members of the assembly will consider whether to approve two LGBTQ-related documents, one about same-gender blessings and one about gender identity, which come from the Synodal Way’s working group on sexuality and relationships. Both documents are on their second reading, which means if a majority of assembly members and two-thirds of the bishops members vote in favor, the texts are formally adopted. (English versions of all the Synodal Way’s texts can be found here.)

News broke this week that some bishops intend to introduce amendments to some documents even after the deadline had passed. Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the conference, said the move was an attempt to “break down the barriers that prevent the texts from being approved.” Irme Stetter-Karp, who heads the Central Committee of German Catholics, said she was surprised by the bishops’ attempt to amend documents at this late date. The full assembly will have to vote on whether to allow the amendments to be considered.

One document, “Blessings ceremonies for couples who love each other,” calls for ceremonies for couples “who love each other but to whom sacramental marriage is not accessible or who do not see themselves at a point of entering into a sacramental marriage,” naming same-gender couples specifically. The document also seeks guidelines for such ceremonies, which could be led by either ordained or lay leaders and include a broader pastoral care aspect. While no one would be forced to offer such a blessing, the document asks that clergy who do so not face sanctions. Such guidelines would then be reviewed in five years.

This document directly confronts the Vatican’s ban on such blessings for same-gender couples and argues that blessings would further the cause of reconciliation between the institutional church and LGBTQ+ people, explaining:

“[T]he response to the questionnaires in the context of the Synod of Bishops has shown that the view of homosexuality underlying this [Vatican] document is not considered sufficient in many places and needs further theological development. The Synodal Way has accordingly adopted a proposal that can be incorporated into the worldwide synodal process. On a practical level, the request for blessing is already fulfilled in many German-speaking local churches. The decision to bestow this blessing is therefore made by the pastors according to their conscience and in many cases in conflict with magisterial guidelines. This situation of ambiguity and inconsistency is clarified, secured and liturgically organized with the present resolution.

“The refusal to bless the relationship of two people who want to live their partnership in love, commitment and responsibility to each other and to God proves to be merciless or even discriminatory in a society that has achieved human dignity and free self-determination as maxims of moral standardisation. . .Often same-sex couples and remarried divorcees have experienced exclusion and depreciation in our Church. The possibility of publicly placing their partnership under God’s blessing does not make up for these experiences. However, it offers the Church the opportunity to show appreciation for the love and values that exist in these relationships and thus ask for forgiveness and make reconciliation possible.”

Another document “Dealing with gender diversity,” will also be considered. The document seeks eight “concrete improvements” for trans and intersex communities within Germany, including:

  • The ability to leave blank the gender marker on baptismal certificates for intersex children, and for intersex and trans Catholics to be able to change their name and gender on church records according to established norms.
  • The full inclusion of trans and intersex people in the sacramental and pastoral life of the church, including blessings for their relationships if unable to marry, non-discrimination protections for church employment and volunteer roles, and an openness to trans and intersex people to enter religious communities or to be ordained.
  • A mandate to provide better education to Catholics, and specifically to clergy and pastoral ministers, such that gender issues are handled with greater sensitivity. The document calls for each diocese to appoint the establishment of a commissioner for LGBTQ+ ministry.

The document asks bishops to appeal to Pope Francis that “transgender and intersex individuals may live their lives and their faith in our Church in their own way of being as creatures of God without experiencing harm, hostility or discrimination.” Specific recommendations include:

  • Rejecting the idea that diverse gender identities are “pathological, negative or even sinful.” Before any Vatican document on gender is released, the church should undergo “an open, serious and fundamental theological and human-scientific examination of gender diversity.” The German document calls current understandings of sex and gender, such as complementarianism and “gender ideology” problematic.
  • Withdrawing the Vatican’s instruction that medical intervention on intersex children is acceptable, even without parental consent, for to do so violates the child’s human rights.
  • Condemning conversion therapy used against all LGBTQ+ people as the practice harms not only the mental and physical wellbeing of its victims, but also often their relationship with God.
  • Admitting baptized trans and intersex people to all “ecclesiastical ordination offices and pastoral professions” according to the person’s identified vocational call.

The document on gender diversity calls for the church to reassess its approach to sex and gender according to contemporary knowledge in a move to more vibrantly realize an inclusive church. The text charges that some church leaders’ trans-negative discourse serves to “legitimise and promote exclusion, violence and persecution,” including exposing them to abuse in the church as a vulnerable community. The document concludes:

“Transgender and intersex identities are realities which the Church has to face and she must find a new way of dealing with them. Transgender and intersex individuals are part of God’s good creation and share in the inviolable dignity of human beings created in God’s image. Acknowledgement of the diversity of human ways of being, including in relation to gender identities, is part of a credible commitment to protecting this dignity, and must be the highest commandment guiding the Church’s actions. This also refers to dealing with transgender and intersex people.”

Both documents successfully passed their first readings at the September 2022 assembly, which you can read about here and here.

At that assembly, three other documents touching on LGBTQ+ issues were raised. The first, a foundational text which sought a new sexual ethics inclusive of diverse sexual orientations, failed to receive the necessary vote of two-thirds of participating bishops. However, the second document which called for a reassessment of the church’s teachings on homosexuality and no longer labeling same-gender relationships as sins against chastity, was adopted. A third document which sought to normalize non-heterosexual priests was also passed.

Bondings 2.0 will provide updates on the Synodal Way’s assembly this week. To receive daily posts on the latest Catholic LGBTQ+ news, opinion, and spirituality in your email inbox, click here to subscribe.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 9, 2023

2 replies
  1. Thomas Deely
    Thomas Deely says:

    Fr Robert
    I have read the article but not all of the documents but will do so. As I have said before in these comments my learning curve as a straight Roman Catholic Redemptorist missionary priest is growing and growing thank you so much Robert


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *