Catholics Protest Cardinal, Bless LGBTQ+ Couples Outside German Cathedral

Several Catholic priests in Germany held a blessing ceremony for same-gender couples, defying the local archbishop who does not permit such liturgies.

Several hundred people, including both same-gender and mixed-gender couples, blessed their relationships outside the Archdiocese of Cologne’s cathedral in early June. The crowd sang “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles, while waving rainbow flags. Thirty couples were blessed by eight priests, according to America.

The blessings ceremony was a protest against the decision of Cologne’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki to censure a priest who held a “blessing ceremony for lovers” that included same-gender couples in March. That priest, Fr. Herbert Ullmann, said he would respect the restrictions Woelki imposed. The protestors, however, felt otherwise. Indo & New York reported:

“After the service, Maria Mesrian from the Maria 2.0 reform movement said it was pathetic to admonish a priest who blessed the love between two people. She recalled that some time ago the archdiocese had blessed an iron grille in front of the south portal of the cathedral. ‘Grids and fences are sacred and worthy of blessing to these men, but love between people is not,’ said Mesrian.”

The priests’ censuring drew previous protests, too, including from a priest in the archdiocese, Fr. Frank Heidekamp, who called it “a further blow” to the church’s credibility. Birgit Mock, vice president of the lay-run Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), said the incident raised serious questions about whether bishops are committed to the resolutions passed earlier this year by the country’s Synodal Way assembly, including resolutions on blessing LGBTQ+ couples and transgender inclusion.

According to the German government’s LGBTQ+ commissioner, Sven Lehmann, the September liturgy was a necessary step towards LGBTQ+ inclusion within the church:

“‘It is mainly thanks to the church’s grassroots that the church is opening up more and more. Archbishop Woelki and the Vatican, on the other hand, are light years behind social reality.'”

In response to previous protests, Cologne’s vicar general, Msgr. Guido Assmann, said the archdiocese would follow the Vatican’s guidance and denied any censure on Fr. Ullmann. There has been no comment on this latest September blessing of couples outside the cathedral.

Cardinal Woelki has been a controversial leader in the Cologne archdiocese for years. He 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.

Woelki has also been a primary critic of Germany’s Synodal Way. 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.

These actions are a shift from an earlier, more positive approach. For instance, in 2012, even before Pope Francis became pontiff, the cardinal suggested that same-gender couples in committed relationships should be viewed similarly to their heterosexual counterparts. He reaffirmed this position later that year. And Woelki was a vocal supporter of the German bishops’ 2015 church employment policy that sought to limit disputes with LGBTQ church workers, including those in same-gender marriages.

Sarah Cassidy (she/her) and Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, September 28, 2023

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