Germany’s powerful Catholic progressives are openly challenging the Holy See’s recent pronouncement that priests cannot bless same-sex unions.
This week they are offering blessings to gay couples in about 100 churches across the country.
The blessings at open church services are the latest reaction of German Catholics against a document published in March by the Vatican’s orthodoxy office.
The “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith” said that Catholic clergy cannot bless same-sex unions because God “does not and cannot bless sin.”
The document pleased conservatives and discouraged advocates of LGBTQ Catholics around the world. But the response has been particularly sharp in Germany, where the German church has been at the forefront of opening up the discussion on hot topics like the church’s teaching on homosexuality as part of a formal process of debate and reform.
The dozens of church services celebrating the blessing of gay unions are the latest escalation in tensions between conservatives and progressives that have already sparked alarm, mainly on the right, that a part of the German church could be doomed to schism.
Germany is no stranger to schisms: 500 years ago, Martin Luther started the Reformation here.
Pope Francis, who has championed a more decentralized ecclesiastical structure, has already has remembered the German hierarchy that it must remain in communion with Rome during its reform process, known as the “synodal path.”
In Berlin, the Rev. Jan Korditschke, a Jesuit who works for the diocese preparing adults for baptism and helps in the St. Canisius congregation, will lead the blessings for gay couples at a May 16 service.
“I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin,” Korditschke told The Associated Press in an interview. “I want to celebrate gay love with these blessings because gay love is a good thing.”
The 44-year-old said it is important for homosexuals to be able to show themselves within the Catholic Church and gain more visibility in the long term. He said he was not afraid of possible repercussions from senior church officials or the Vatican.
“I support what I do, although I find it painful not to be able to do it in tune with the ecclesiastical leadership,” Korditschke said, adding that “the homophobia of my church makes me angry and ashamed.”
The head of the German Bishops’ Conference last month criticized the popular initiative for the blessing of homosexuals, which is called “Liebe Gewinnt” or “Love wins.”
The Bishop of Limburg, Georg Baetzing, said that the blessings “are not suitable as an instrument of ecclesiastical political demonstrations or political actions.”
However, Germany’s powerful secular organization, the Central Committee of German Catholics, or ZdK, who has been advocating for gay blessings since 2015, once again positioned himself in favor of them. He called the controversial Rome document “unhelpful” and explicitly expressed his support for “Love Wins.”
“They are celebrations of worship in which people express to God what moves them,” Birgit Mock, a spokesperson for family affairs for the ZdK, told the AP agency.
“The fact that they ask God’s blessing and thank Him for all the good that is in their lives – also for relationships lived with mutual respect and full of love – is deeply grounded in the Gospel,” Mock said, adding that she herself was scheduled to attend a religious service with blessings for homosexuals in the western city of Hamm on Monday in which she would pray for “the success of the synodal journey in which, as a church, we recognize sexuality as a positive force.”
The ZdK has been participating in the meetings of the “synodal path” with the German Episcopal Conference for more than a year. They are scheduled to conclude in the fall. The meetings talk about allowing priests to marry, the ordination of women, and a different understanding of sexuality, among other reforms. The process began as part of the response to disclosures of clergy sexual abuse.
“In Germany we are fighting very seriously and with intense theological speeches for the right path,” added Mock. “Things cannot continue as they have been: this is what the crimes and the cover-up of sexual abuse showed us.”
“We need systemic changes, also in regards to a reassessment of the ecclesiastical morality of sexuality,” Mock said.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.