Berlin Cardinal Re-Affirms His Support for Lesbian and Gay Relationships

July 10, 2012

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Berlin has re-affirmed his support for same-sex relationships which he made at a German conference of Catholic lay people back in May.

London’s Tablet magazine, an international Catholic periodical, reports:

“The Church must rethink its approach to remarried divorcees and gay relationships, the world’s youngest cardinal has said.

“Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, 55, made his comments in an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit and said that while the Orthodox Church considers only the first marriage sacramentally valid, divorce and a second marriage is tolerated. Asked whether this could be a model for the Catholic Church, he replied that the Church should talk about it.

Commenting on gay men in relationships he said he tried not to see them as just violating natural law but as people trying to take responsibility for each other in lasting partnerships. ‘We must find a way of allowing people to live without going against church teaching,’ he said.”

Mark deVries, a Dutchman who blogs at In  Caelo et in Terra (In Heaven and on Earth), has translated the relevant passage into English:

“ ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,’ the Catechism says about people with homosexual tendencies. If I take that seriously, I can’t merely see homosexual relationships as a ‘violation of natural law,’ as the Catechism puts it. I should also try to perceive it as people permanently taking  responsibility for one another, being loyal and willing to take care of each other, even if I can’t agree with such a lifestyle. The lifestyle that we, as the Catholic Church, stand for, is the sacramental marriage between one man and one woman, open to the transmission of life. I have also said this at the Catholic Day in Mannheim, immediately before the passage you quoted.”

deVries disagrees that this statement is an endorsement of lesbian and gay relationships.  He states:

“Reading this, I think it is unfair to see Cardinal Woelki’s earlier statement as an acceptance or even endorsement of homosexual relationships. He says clearly that he is unable to agree with this lifestyle. But, and this is the key, he does emphasise an important element of our dealings with people or situations that we don’t agree with. This element is love, as the catechism quote also hints at. Through love, we can see the good in situations which are “intrinsically disordered”, meaning that in their nature they are contrary to natural law. But, as Jesus has shown us, love trumps all, so even in these situations, love can shine through. Does that mean that homosexual acts and relations cease to be disordered? No, they don’t. But, as the Catechism and the cardinal indicate, we must acknowledge the fact that love, loyalty, responsibility and care can be present in this lifestyle.”

I think that deVries’ argument actually makes the point that Woelki does endorse same-gender relationships.  By noting that the love relationship matters more than sexual activity, deVries is pointing out that Woelki’s thinking is more in line with theologians, like the recently censured Sr. Margaret Farley, who argue that the quality of a relationship and the presence of love in a relationship should be our standards for moral judgement.

As we stated previously, Cardinal Woelki’s comments are a breath of fresh air and part of a growing trend to give some positive acknowledgment of  same-gender relationships from some high-ranking clerics in the church.  May the discussion continue in this vein.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways  Ministry


A Giant, Hopeful Step in the Direction of Full Equality

May 22, 2012

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

A different translation of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s comments about the equality of homosexual and heterosexual relationships offers a slight shift in the understanding of the Berlin archbishop’s message reported here on May 20th, though, as far as I can understand, it is still a very hopeful message.  First, I’ll explain the translation issue and then explain why I think it is still hopeful.

Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, alerted me to a blog by Daniel Silliman, who posted a variation on the translation of Woelki’s comments.  Silliman’s post translates Woelki’s remarks, reported in The Deutche Presse-Agentur, the largest news organization in Germany, in this way:

“The Berlin Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki considers it possible that the Catholic Church will soften its strict position against gays and lesbians in the long term …. It is conceivable that the criteria will be refined. He considers it is imaginable that, ‘where people take responsibility for each other, where they live and practice a longterm/permanent  homosexual relationship, that that is to be regarded in a similar way [emphasis mine] as a heterosexual relationship,’ Woelki said on Thursday at the Catholic Congress in Mannheim.
“However, no one can expect a quick change of heart from the Church on this question. There will be no quick fixes, such a process could take a long time. Above all, this would not change it, that the marriage between man and woman for the Catholic church has a special rank, emphasized Woelki. . . .
“The Magisterium of the Catholic Church must deal with such developments. Unfortunately, this often takes a long time, and would not help people living today, said Woelki.”
The biggest difference here is whether Woelki’s comparison phrase is translated “in a similar way” or “in the same way.”  While there is certainly a difference between these translations, I still believe that even if the weaker one is more correct, it is still a giant step forward from the usual absolutist approach most church leaders take that no change can ever possibly take place in the area of homosexual relationships.
What’s more important, as I pointed out the other day, is that Woelki’s acknowledgement of the possibility of change is part of a trend I’ve noticed in the last six months where prelates are finding ways to make concessions about civilly legal ways to recognize committed same-gender relationships.   These concessions are in direct contradiction to the Vatican’s 2003 document “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons”  which stated:
“Where the government’s policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”
 Cardinal Woelki’s comments (even in the translation which weakens the comparison to heterosexual unions)  and the comments of the other bishops cited in my previous post ignore this document’s injunction not to approve of homosexual acts and they certainly do not state clearly “the immoral nature of these unions,” but instead do quite the opposite.
I hope that my post on May 20th did not give the impression that I believed that equality for heterosexual and homosexual relationships in the Catholic Church was just around the corner.   That was not my intention.  Even without knowing of Woelki’s comments that such a change might take a long time, I was still under the impression that such would be the case.  For example, while I rejoice that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia has called for a re-thinking of the church’s approach to sexual ethics,  I am not going to hold my breath until that happens.  Yet, it is still a giant step in the rigtht direction that a bishop has issued such a call.
The cause for rejoicing in Woelki’s statement is that a Cardinal of the Church has acknowledged goodness in same-gender relationships and has compared them to marriage–unlike comparing them to addiction, bestiality, and other human frailties or perversions, as some of his brother bishops have been known to do.  Knowing that one Cardinal–especially one who may not see full equality between heterosexual and homosexual relationships as ideal–can make such a positive comparison indicates that the hierarchy of the church can indeed work for change in this area of doctrine.
I thank Terence Weldon and Daniel Silliman for their clarifications.  I invite readers to offer their thoughts on the Cardinal’s statement, and whether or not this news is seen as a sign of hope.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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