In Germany, blessing for same-sex {couples} is exacerbating tensions with the Vatican

(RNS) – When Antje Mahler came out as queer as a teenager, her family struggled to come to terms with her sexuality. She struggled to come to terms with her spirituality.

“Your religion is the first thing that you take out of the closet,” says Mahler, who grew up Catholic in Bavaria, the largest and traditionally most Catholic state in Germany. “It’s like when you’re queer, you’re no longer allowed to be religious.”

But Mahler was encouraged through a campaign of priests, deacons, and lay people in 110 Catholic churches to bless same-sex couples, despite a recent statement by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that such blessings are “not” legitimate “and that same-sex associations” are not arranged according to the plan of the Creator ”.

RELATED: In Germany, the Vatican’s Ban on Blessing Same-Sex Couples Got the Church “In Progress”

The public celebrations under the motto “#LiebeGewinnt” were open to “all lovers, regardless of whether they are gay, lesbian or straight”. Churches across the country hung large rainbow flags and banners from bell towers and balustrades to give the campaign a festival feel.

Pastor Bernd Mönkebüscher, pastor in Hamm in West Germany, who helped initiate the campaign, said: “Such blessings have been around for a long time, even if they are hidden and not public. Which is shameful. “

“We wanted to encourage people to celebrate worthy blessing services in many places at the same time, because loving people don’t have to hide and because they experience their partner in love as a ‘blessing’, a gift from heaven,” he said.

“Most churches do not understand the ‘no’ from Rome and do not share it,” said Mönkebüscher.

Pastor Jan Korditschke, who held a blessing ceremony in his St. Canisius Church in Berlin, said the injuries that gays, lesbians and other queer believers have suffered from the church “touched his soul”. He decided that St. Canisius would attend to make amends and to put “a friendly, believable face” on his church in the LGBTQIA + community.

Pastor Jan Korditschke poses for a photo in the St. Canisius Church in Berlin on May 7, 2021. (AP Photo / Michael Sohn)

The service itself, which was organized with the help of the local Jesuit congregation and attended by over 100 believers, was “touching and exhilarating” at the same time for those involved, said Korditschke. “The evening was so successful precisely because the church – like Jesus – clearly took the side of the disadvantaged in this service.”

The services were more than a sign of the progressive attitude of some communities towards same-sex associations, they were the latest chapter in the ongoing tensions between the German Catholic Church and Rome. After reactions within Germany, which ranged from full of enthusiasm to the blessings and massive rebukes, the protest against the CDF judgment will not be the last.

Defying Rome has been an issue in Germany lately. In December 2019, the German bishops started a series of conferences known as the “Synodal Way” to discuss a range of theological and organizational issues. Inspired by the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, the Synodal Way has become a cause for unrest among German Catholics – including the Vatican’s resistance to changes in the Church’s relationship with same-sex couples.

The question of the blessing of same-sex partnerships and a “new vision for sexual morality” will be discussed in the context of the Synodal Path Conferences, said Mönkebüscher.

In response to the Dubium Declaration and other overtures from Rome, Mönkebüscher said more than 250 theologians spoke out against the Vatican’s negative attitude towards same-sex partnerships and 2,600 pastors have pledged to continue blessing same-sex couples.

However, not all Catholics in Germany are satisfied. Mönkebüscher said some communities that took part in the #LoveWins campaign received anonymous letters and threats from people “who view homosexuality as a disease and a sin,” he said. The German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, retired Prefect of the CDF, called on Pope Francis to “intervene” and “correct clerics who have tried to bless same-sex marriages or to encourage such attempts”.

In St. Canisius and other Berlin churches, demonstrators gathered during the blessing services with signs saying “God does not bless sin”.

The response is even louder online. The right-wing extremist protest page “Patriot Petition” gathered German-speaking Catholics in Germany, Austria and Switzerland to sign a petition against the alleged attack on “Western Christian values”.

Elsewhere, conservative commentator Birgit Kelle wrote in German weekly Focus that the blessings illustrated how “the LGBT scene and intersectional feminism have now invaded the church”.

The reaction of the President of the German Bishops’ Conference (DBK), Bishop Georg Bätzing, who is generally considered to be progressive and moderate, was also ambivalent. Although he said he was “not happy” with the Vatican’s decision to join the debate on blessing for same-sex couples, he also said the #LoveWins initiative was “not a useful sign or a way forward” . The blessings are “not a suitable means for political-church demonstrations or protest actions”.

The flag of the Vatican City, on the left, and a flag of pride.  Images courtesy of Creative Commons

The flag of the Vatican City, on the left, and a flag of pride. Images courtesy of Creative Commons

Bätzing called for a “more objective discussion” and “a reassessment of homosexual unions and a further development of church sexual morality”.

Elsewhere, the bishops have shown their ambivalence in the church’s relationship with LGBTQ Germans. At the beginning of May, the DBK refused to award the Catholic Children’s and Youth Book Prize to the nominated novel “Paper Piano” by Elisabeth Steinkellner because one of the protagonist’s friends is transgender.

And while the #LoveWins campaign is a step in the right direction, Alexander Görlach, a religious scholar and senior fellow of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, said the church’s broader stance on homosexuality is one of many issues the church doesn’t in line with contemporary European culture. Even a radical reinterpretation of sexual morality in the church could not stop its disconnection from German society and its inevitable decline.

RELATED: Vatican Says Yes To Gays, No To Blessing Gay Unions

“Attendance at Catholic mass has decreased since the end of World War II,” he said. “In the 1990s, we still had a trade fair attendance of around 20-25%. Now it’s 10-13%.

“You can work out how long there will be religious-Catholic life in Germany,” said Görlach. “Most people just live their lives and won’t care.”

Despite his pessimistic attitude, Görlach observes how the German hierarchy reacts to the #Love Wins campaign. “It now depends on the bishops who have to decide whether to sanction priests,” who participated, he said.

“Priests bless elevators and freeway entrances. So there should be a chance to bless people who want to express their love for one another, ”said Görlach.

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