Germany is fast becoming the main focal point for theological discussion on lesbian/gay relationships, as well as other marriage and family issues, as the universal church prepares for the synod on these topics at the Vatican in October of this year.
In May, the Central Committee of German Catholics, the largest lay Catholic association in the country issued a position paper at their national meeting in which they called for the Church to bless same-sex partnerships and re-married divorcees. [If you can read German, you can view the entire document by clicking here.]
The Tablet’s report of this news noted that the Committee was rebuked, surprisingly, by Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, who as last year’s synod and on several occasions since then, has himself called for greater openness towards lesbian and gay relationships. The Tablet stated:
“In his response Cardinal Marx said that the paper contained certain demands that were ‘theologically unacceptable’ if enacted ‘unreservedly’.”
Yet, Marx’s criticism seemed tempered with a somewhat sympathetic tone to the group’s ideas:
“He told the group, which has several million members, that ‘necessary theological debate’ and dialogue on both subjects would be helpful.
“At the same time, however, Marx praised the [Committee’s] position paper for its many ‘theological and socially significant statements on the family and the demand to promote the family in the Church, in politics and in society’.”
Six other German bishops criticized the document, but the Committee’s general secretary, Stefan Vesper dismissed their evaluation. The Tablet summarized Vesper’s views:
“The position paper had begun with a ‘clear avowal’ of ‘sacramental marriage as a model for lifelong commitment.’ He added that the [Committee] was aware that many of the values ‘which distinguish sacramental marriage as an alliance between God and human beings’ were nowadays ‘also being lived in other partnerships and family forms.’ “
Terence Weldon, who blogs at Queering The Church, offered an insightful comment on this small debate occurring in Germany:
“When the Family Synod was first announced and ever since, the Vatican and others have insisted that the intention was to debate and refine pastoral practice – not to change or even discuss doctrine. It’s becoming clearer than ever though, that there is a growing awareness that the need for doctrinal change will have to be seriously addresses, whether at the synod, or later. Cardinal Marx’s acknowledgement that theological dialogue with lay people is an impressive example of that.”
Weldon also provided the English text for another important news story coming out of Germany on the synod. On another Queering The Church post, he offered a translation of a German radio interview with Eberhard Schockenhoff, a leading moral theologian in Europe. Shockenhoff was one the the theologians invited to meet with a number of European bishops in Rome last month to discuss ways of bringing more effective pastoral documents out of this year’s synod.
During that interview with DomRadio.de [again, the text on the linked site is in German],Shockenhoff stated his support for developing the Church’s approach to lesbian and gay relationships in a more progressive direction:
“First, it has to be said that same-sex oriented people have the right, in their life – and that includes, too, the fact that they are like all people sexual beings – to be recognized. That also includes of course the shape of their lives.
“The Church’s position – that they should not be discriminated against in their person and (the church) shows due respect to them, but their sexual activity in itself is seen as disordered – that is in itself not a convincing position. This position after all is just perceived as latent discrimination, even when that is not actually the claim of the Church’s teaching.
“Only when the Church here comes give a clear, unreserved acceptance of these people and their ways of life – then, if it is founded on loyalty – a principle applies, in the moral theology formulated today in this way: Wherever friendship, mutual commitment and responsibility of the people become lived, that is morally respectable, regardless of the circumstances of the sexual orientation under which this happens.”
Shockenhoff does not endorse marriage as the institution to join lesbian and gay couples, but supports civil unions for them:
“This registered partnership deserves appreciation and it is the appropriate legal instrument to secure the living space two same-sex oriented people, and also the public, are seeking.”
Finally, the third bit of news from Germany this week is that Heiner Koch, the newly appointed archbishop of Berlin, has made several positive remarks in respect to lesbian and gay people and relationships. The Tablet reported:
“[He] has said that describing homosexuality as a sin is ‘hurtful.’ “
Other reports note that Archbishop-elect Koch also has stated:
“I know homosexual pairs that live values such as reliability and responsibility in an exemplary way.”
“Any bond that strengthens and holds people is in my eyes good; that applies also to same-sex relationships.”
Most significantly, Koch is President of the German Bishops’ Conference’s Commission for Marriage and the Family, and is one of the three bishops chosen by the German bishops to represent the nation at the October synod on marriage and the family at the Vatican.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry