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Setting the Stage: Cardinal Marx on ‘Commission’ to Prepare ‘Discussion’ of Blessing Homosexual Couples

Cardinal Reinhard Marx – who received much criticism for his recent remarks on the possibility of blessing homosexual couples in individual cases – has deflected that topic for now, but he says an episcopal commission has been set up in Germany to consider it.

Today, the German bishops are starting their four-day-long Spring Assembly, which takes place this year in Ingolstadt. As the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung reports, Cardinal Marx – the president of the German Bishops’ Conference and a member of the pope’s Council of Nine Cardinals – has today made some comments on the topic of the blessing of homosexual couples.

First of all, he deflected the topic by saying it is not on the agenda of the German bishops’ agenda for the Spring Assembly. He added, however, that an internal commission has been set up in order to “prepare” the discussion. He did not add any further details in this matter. He himself does not see here any time pressure or urgency.

As OnePeterFive had reported, it was Cardinal Marx himself who, in a 3 February interview, gave an opening toward the idea to bless homosexual couples, saying: “This I really have to leave up to the local pastor and the accompaniment of that person.” Marx also proposed that in this question, there cannot be “any general rules.”

The vice president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, made an even more expansive proposal to bless homosexual couples.

In reaction to these initiatives, and right at the beginning of the German bishops’ Spring Assembly, two Southern German bishops have now rejected the idea to bless homosexual couples. According to the regional newspaper Esslinger Zeitung, both bishops of the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg made statements about this very question. Gebhard Fürst, bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, said that “the administration of the Sacrament [of Marriage] is reserved only for the marriage that has the natural openness to children.” Archbishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg explained that the Catholic Church, for religious reasons, rejects the idea of putting same-sex partnerships on the same level as marriages, and thus, she cannot bless such same-sex unions. As the press speaker of Archbishop Berger said, “such an individual blessing of a same-sex partnership within the frame of a liturgical celebration could easily give the impression of such an equalization.”

Bishop Fürst himself said he rejects the idea of liturgical blessings of same-sex partnerships because it would have a “quasi-sacramental character.” However, he added: “We tolerate fully and wholly registered [homosexual] partnerships. They may not be discriminated against.”

This is the first German episcopal response to the initiatives of Cardinal Marx and Bishop Bode. However, Bishop emeritus Andreas Laun, of Austria, previously clearly rejected them, saying: “But now concerning the question of Cardinal Marx, and not a few of the priests, the answer is simple: one may ask for God’s blessing for sinners, but not for the sin.” Therefore, “one may not bless any institutions,” for example, that “promote or procure abortions or which propagate ideologies which are against the Faith” – or the Mafia, for that matter.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and Archbishop Lackner – the president and the vice president, respectively, of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, distanced themselves from Bishop Laun for his words. Schönborn said it is “not acceptable to mention the value of same-sex relationships at the same time as mentioning the mafia or concentration camps, as it has now unfortunately happened. … These things are not to be compared.” Bishop Laun – who also issued an apologized in case he had unintentionally wounded anyone with his words – still insisted upon the moral question and principle at stake. He said, in a subsequent statement: “The common denominator [of these examples] is only that it is against God’s Commandments, therefore the Church cannot bless it, neither the smaller nor the bigger sins.”

A few days ago, OnePeterFive reached out to Cardinal Schönborn, asking him what he has to say about the substance of the matter – namely, the idea to bless homosexual couples. So far, we have not yet received an official response. Such a response is even more urgent in light of the fact that the Diocese of Linz, Austria, this year already invited homosexual couples to participate in the St. Valentine’s Day blessing of couples.

Update: Marco Tosatti is now reporting that Cardinal Schönborn, “named” by the pope as his authorized interpreter of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, has recently commented on the very existence of same-sex unions, asserting that the Catholic faith is not “certain” about this question. In the following, we present Tosatti’s own report.

“The question of ‘marriage for all’ poses some challenges for us as a Church, to which we do not have certain answers,” declared the cardinal [Schönborn]. “We ought to find accurate answers to these questions, which concern the dignity and salvation of the interested souls.” A Catholic journalist, cited anonymously by the news agencies, commented: “Cardinal Schönborn seems to find it correct to criticize Laun, but where is his criticism of Cardinal Marx?”

In an interview during the 2015 Synod on the Family, Schönborn called for the recognition of the “positive elements” present in homosexual unions. “We can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, and find ways in civil law to protect their living together with laws which assure such protection.” And in 2016, the bulletin of the Vienna cathedral, St. Stephen, ran an article on two men and their adopted son, presenting them as a married couple.

A few days ago, however, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, speaking to a conference in Bratislava organized by the Comenius University on the theme of Veritatis Splendor, strongly criticized the hypothesis put forward by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode and endorsed by Cardinal Marx. After the conference, Müller responded on this question: “If a priest blesses a homosexual couple, then this is an atrocity committed in a sacred place – namely, to approve something which God does not approve.” In his presentation at the conference Müller had lamented the separation that exists between moral and doctrinal teaching in the Church. He also said that “the transformation of the Church in to an NGO for the betterment of the conditions of worldly life” was “a suicidal modernization” that deprives humanity of divine truth.

On Amoris Laetitia, Müller said he was saddened by the plurality of interpretations [of it] by various bishops’ conferences. “In the dogmatic questions, there cannot be pluralism. There is only one Magisterium, and the bishops’ conferences can decide only about pastoral matters. Contradictory ideas about the sacraments lead to situations of chaos,” according to Müller. “Whoever lives in a state of mortal sin cannot receive holy communion.” For Müller, the duty of the pope “is to unite the Church; this the reason he is pope.” This is what Müller has said to Pope Francis: if the bishops’ conferences present differing interpretations of Amoris Laetitia, the Church enters “into a situation similar to that prior to the Reformation.”

Originally published in La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana; translated here by Giuseppe Pellegrino.


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