Global Advocates Welcome German LGBTQ+ Reforms, While Vatican Reiterates Concern

LGBTQ+ advocates worldwide have welcomed the German church’s recent decisions to bless same-gender couples and to advance transgender inclusion in the church. Meanwhile, a top Vatican official and some other prelates reiterated concerns about the process.

Last week, Germany’s Synodal Way approved two key documents to advance inclusion for LGBTQ+ Catholics. The documents were developed by the Synodal Way’s working group on sexuality and relationships over the course of several years. (For Bondings 2.0’s reporting on the German process over the years, click here.)

At this final assembly, the text “Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other” was approved in a 176-14 vote (with 12 abstentions), including 38 bishops. The text specifically seeks a blessing liturgy to be developed for same-gender couples, as well as people who are divorced and civilly remarried. It also directly refutes the Vatican’s 2021 ban on such blessings. To learn more about its contents, click here.

The text “Dealing with gender diversity” was approved in a 170-8 vote (with 13 abstentions), including the support of 38 bishops. This text aims at “concrete improvements” for transgender and intersex Catholics, including about church records, admission to the sacraments, education for pastoral ministers, and more. More broadly, it seeks a fundamental re-appraisal of church teachings on gender. To learn more about the document’s contents, click here.

Also notable was that one of the Synodal Way’s youth delegates, Mara Klein, who is nonbinary, was elected to the new synodal council that will oversee implementation of the process’ documents in the coming years. Klein previously wrote for Bondings 2.0 about their experience of the Synodal Way, available here, as well as spoke during a New Ways Ministry panel on LGBTQ+ issues and synodality, available here.

Responses to the documents’ passage were quite positive from LGBTQ+ advocates. The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) also affirmed the German church’s steps, particularly the hierarchy. Christopher Vella, one of GNRC’s co-chairs, commented in a statement:

“[T]he German bishops are trailblazers and prophetic. They are showing great courage in witnessing to the fundamental truth that LGBTIQ relationships are sacramental and can be a path of holiness for the persons involved. . .”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, wrote in a statement that the German bishops “have taken a bold and courageous step to affirm the sacredness of committed relationships between people of the same gender.” She added, “We know [the bishops’] work will inevitably spread well beyond Germany. There is a tremendous yearning for Catholic ritual among LGBTQIA+ Catholics, and many will adapt this ritual to their own cultures with great joy.”

New Ways Ministry praised and expressed gratitude for German Catholics’ initiatives in respective statements on the blessings document and the gender diversity document.

However, tensions with Rome over the Synodal Way were again apparent in comments by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state. According to Crux, Parolin cited the Vatican’s 2021 ban on LGBTQ+ blessings in a conversation with journalists, telling them:

“A local, particular church cannot make a decision like that which involves the discipline of the Universal Church. . .There must certainly be a discussion with Rome and the rest of the Churches in the world … to clarify what are the decisions to make. . .This decision should fit inside the synodal path of the universal church. There it will be decided what developments there will be.”

Parolin was more positive that the German church would not begin such blessings for five years, and he rejected the idea that the Synodal Way was a “rebellion,” instead commenting that “there have always been tensions and differing positions” in the church.

Also expressing concern is Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, who abstained from the Synodal Way vote on blessings and has been critical of the process. According to (via Google Translate), the archdiocese stated the cardinal “knows about the deep desire of same-sex couples for a church blessing, which the archbishop can empathize with,” but is “waiting for the opinion of the Holy See” on the issue.

Amid the differing reactions is the crucial question now of translating the Synodal Way’s desired outcomes into concrete practices. Some church leaders, like Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, have welcomed couples seeking the church’s blessing almost immediately. But journalist Renardo Schlegelmilch says in many cases it will be more complicated. He wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that “in a way, the German fight for a progressive church has just begin,” continuing:

“Are [blessings] starting them tomorrow? No. As always with the Germans, it’s a bit more complicated. They will work on liturgical and pastoral guidelines on how to handle these blessings. A committee is supposed to take three years for that.

“Even then these blessings won’t be implemented everywhere. . .In a number of dioceses, then, no one can make the bishop implement same-sex blessings. . .

“The Vatican could again intervene. The Germans have now explicitly gone against the will of Rome’s 2021 letter, with a formal vote supported by a large majority of the bishops. What will happen if the Vatican intervenes again? ‘I trust in the Holy Spirit,’ [Limburg’s Bishop Georg] Bätzing said.”

(Bätzing is head of the German Bishops’ Conference and has publicly supported same-gender blessings for several years.)

Schlegelmilch also wrote about the influence that an address by Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium had during the Synodal Way’s final assembly in which Bonny helped gain support for blessing same-gender couples given his experience with the Flemish bishops’ own proposal for such blessings. He pointed out that the question now goes far beyond Germany’s borders, concluding:

“One thing is clear though: This decision will have consequences far beyond Germany. If a small bishops’ conference like Flanders is making such a change, it’s easy to ignore. If a large and influential church like Germany does, it won’t be as easy.

“The German church is financially, politically and theologically influential. They put down a strong vote with a sound theological base. As the survey for the ongoing worldwide synodal process showed us, the Germans are not alone in their wish for reform. Now everyone who is hoping for a more progressive church has a powerful ally in their corner.”

As for German Catholics, both episcopal and lay leaders, many are resolute in their pursuit of making blessings for LGBTQ+ couples a reality. Thomas Söding, vice president for the lay-led Central Committee of German Catholics, summed it up, saying:

“‘[Q]ueer couples who love each other and people who bless them in the name of the church have come out of the gray area of the forbidden into the bright field of faith.'”

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

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