German Catholics Criticize Cardinal’s Decision to Censure Priest Who Blessed Queer Couples

A blessing service in Germany for “all loving couples” in March 2023

A leader of Germany’s influential lay Catholic organization has criticized the cardinal who censured a priest for conducting a blessing liturgy inclusive of queer couples.

Birgit Mock, vice president of the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), chastised Cologne’s Cardinal Rainier Maria Woelki for sanctioning Fr. Herbert Ullmann because the priest led a “blessing service for all loving couples” in March. An anonymous source reported Ullmann to the Vatican, after which Woelki chastised the priest and banned any future services. Mock reacted strongly, according to (via Google Translate). She spoke not only about this incident but about repeating such a ban in the future:

“[Mock said:] ‘. . . Mechanisms such as denunciation and possibly even requested or at least intended bans have, in my view, nothing to do with credible and humane pastoral care. . .[S]ame-sex couples can only be welcomed by us. In their love God shows himself, I firmly believe that.’ . . .

“She expects the bishops to commit themselves to the joint resolutions of the Synodal Way. ‘That would mean, among other things, not to hinder or sanction blessing celebrations for same-sex couples, but also for divorced people who have remarried.’ The Synodal Way does not attack the sacrament of marriage, but builds bridges between church teaching and everyday life. Looking to the future, Mock emphasized: ‘All these bans and demonstrations of power will not stop the power of a movement towards a church of diversity and equality in the long run.'”

The blessing service, held in conjunction with the “Rainbow Church for All” working group, a Catholic LGBTQ+ ministry collective in Cologne, was noted for being quite powerful, particularly when those gathered were anointed and blessed, reported Plans were made to hold a similar service early next year until the archdiocese intervened and censured Ullmann. For the priest’s part, he said on social media that he respected Woelki’s “stipulations” and would “find other ways of supporting people who have got caught in this doctrinal crossfire which affects not only homosexuals but also remarried divorcees.”

Mock and the ZdK were not the only German Catholics critical of Woelki. Two promiennt German priests also challenged the cardinal’s actions. The Tablet reported:

“‘In these crisis-ridden times when we as a Church – and especially we as its ordained representatives – have been bruised and battered and for a great many people have – rightly – become a bone of contention, a priest who conducted a blessing service for two people who love one another has been anonymously denounced in the highest circles and sanctioned,” wrote Fr Frank Heidekamp, the city dean of Düsseldorf, on social media.

“‘The mercy which Jesus proclaimed and practised has had to give way to the letter of canon law and is a further blow for the credibility of the Church.’

“The vicar-general of Essen, Fr Klaus Pfeffer, told the daily Rheinische Post that many priests wanted to fulfil remarried divorcees’ and homosexual couples’ wishes for church blessings but such blessings were against canon law.

“‘Prohibitions and warnings are not the right answer to this conflict of conscience. The answer can only be found by talking things out together and seeking just solutions,’ he said.”

The Archdiocese of Cologne’s statements on the blessing service incident have been limited. However, the vicar general, Msgr. Guido Assmann, noted that while they expect ministers to abide by church teaching:

“Should the Vatican change its opinion on the subject, then the Archdiocese of Cologne will of course do the same.”

Cardinal Woelki was a primary critic of Germany’s Synodal Way, a nationwide Catholic consultation which affirmed LGBTQ+ people ane pastoral care. He abstained from voting at the meeting several times, and, on the question of queer blessings (which the assembly approved), sought clarification from the Vatican even ahead of its March 2021 ban on them. That he would censure a priest while so many other German bishops support LGBTQ-positive pastoral ministry is therefore not surprising.

Woelki faces serious allegations that he perjured himself and personally mishandled clergy sexual abuse, leading to a police raid in June. These charges have eroded Catholics’ trust in him, and this censure and ban will likely exacerbate their disapproval. For the ZdK’s Birgit Mock is entirely right: “All these bans and demonstrations of power will not stop the power of a movement towards a church of diversity and equality in the long run.'”

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, August 12, 2023

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