Since the beginning of this year, there seems to be an intensification of progressivist activity within the Catholic Church in Germany in order to liberalize the Church’s teaching on, and assessment of, homosexuality. As if a dam has broken, one initiative rapidly follows another. It seems as if Germany might become the guiding country with regard to this issue, just as the Amazon region might become the leader of reform with regard to married priests, in the sense of a “decentralized Church” as recently outlined by the progressivist theologian Father Paul Zulehner. The near future will tell us more. Let us for now recount some of these new German statements here.
In the January issue of the German Catholic journal Herder Korrespondenz, there is an interview with Cardinal Reinhard Marx. As the President of the German Bishops’ Conference and a papal adviser, Marx proposed that the Catholic Church rethink her teaching on sexual morality in which case he argued against “blind rigorism.” For him, it is “difficult to say from the outside whether someone is in the state of mortal sin.” Marx applied this statement not only to men and women in “irregular situations,” but also to those in a homosexual relationship, saying that there has to be “a respect for a decision made in freedom” and in light of one’s “conscience”; he added that one also has “to listen to the voice of the Church.”
Not long after this piece of news broke (already a few days before the new year started, on 27 December 2017) – and after the German Bishops’ official news website immediately reported on this statement by Marx – there came the now-widely-discussed call for a blessing of homosexual couples which had been issued in an interview, on 10 January, given by the Vice President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, of Osnabrück. Bode then stated that it would be important to discuss this entire matter, adding:
We have to reflect upon the question as to how to assess, in a differentiated manner, a relationship between two homosexual persons. […] Is there not so much positive and good and right so that we have to be more just?
Only three days later, on 13 January, the German bishops’ website Katholisch.de published an interview with Professor Benedikt Kranemann who is a liturgy scholar at the Catholic Theology department at the University of Erfurt. Kranemann is also an adviser to the German Bishops’ Conference. In that 13 January interview, this German professor bluntly stated that, thus far,
there has not yet been a real theological discussion in the Catholic Church about in what ritual form such a salvific promise [sic] from God – because that is what a blessing stands for – could be expressed for these [homosexual] couples.
Kranemann added that “I find it theologically problematic if one makes a blessing dependent upon the moral assessment of human conduct.” To support his argument, he referred to the blessing of cars “where the drivers receive a blessing independently of their way of driving.” According to Kranemann, the blessing of a homosexual couple is not not necessarily a first step which then leads to a sacrament. “Blessings are manifold; some lead to sacraments, others not.”
As if speaking about a “human right to a blessing,” Kranemann further explains:
I consider it to be theologically problematic if one denies such a blessing to people who consider it to be necessary for them. People also have the right that the grace of God should be extended to them, as the pastoral theologian Ottmar Fuchs has explained in his recent studies.
At the end of this interview, Professor Kranemann lauds Bishop Bode for his own initiative, saying: “And I think it is good that Bishop Bode – no less than the Vice President of the German Bishops’ Conference – is pushing this topic now.”
Just four days after this Kranemann interview, on 18 January, Professor Stephan Goertz raised his own voice in support of homosexual unions in the Catholic Church. Writing for the religion section of the prominent German newspaper Die Zeit, Christ&Welt, Goertz entitles his article: “Praise the Luck, Brothers!” As is to be expected, Katholisch.de published a report about this new article, and even presented it one day before the official publication date.
Goertz is professor of moral theology at the University of Mainz and is a known supporter of relaxing the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexual morality. Already in 2015, he wondered whether homosexual unions could not have a “sacramental character.” He had just then published a book which is entitled: Who Am I to Judge? Homosexuality and the Catholic Church. Now, in 2018, Goertz sees much (progressive and favorable) movement within the Catholic Church with regard to this topic. He highlights the three recent statements by Cardinal Marx, Bishop Bode, as well as Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin (who stated in 2017 that “same-sex cohabitation can be valued through other institutional arrangements without opening up the legal institute of marriage”); and says that they have “attracted attention.” Goertz sees that it is “legitimate that the Catholic Church comes in the 21th century to a new assessment of homosexual relationships.” Too long, he adds, the Church has had a “rigoristic attitude” toward homosexuality. “Now, under Pope Francis, there has been a change.” The Church now trusts more in the moral competence and judgment of the the people, according to Goertz. “The scope of freedom is being carefully widened.” With a hopeful outlook, he predicts that, were the Church to change her views in this matter, and recognize “the good and the right” in homosexual relationships, “the crampedness in dealing with homosexual caregivers (male and female) would come to an end.”
As one German Catholic observer put it, so far not one German bishop has come out to resist any of these recent liberalizing initiatives as promoted by the German Bishops’ Conference.
It is important to note here that there are links between these new progressivist initiatives concerning homosexuality and those concerning contraception. As Edward Pentin recently showed, two of the speakers at a series of talks about “re-thinking Humanae Vitae” hosted by the Gregorian University in Rome – Father Maurizio Chiodi (who now claims that contraception might sometimes be required) and Father Miguel Yanez – both also participated at a presentation of a book edited by Professor Goertz (together with Caroline Witting). As Pentin keenly puts it, in this new Goertz book “it is argued that Amoris Laetitia represents a paradigm shift for all moral theology and especially in interpreting Humanae Vitae.”
Let us also recall here that it was at that same Roman university – the Gregorian University – that, in May of 2015, the controversial “shadow council” or “Day of Study” took place which, organized among others by the German bishops, seems to have prepared the way for Amoris Laetitia, as well as for the change of other areas of the Church’s moral teaching. One of the speakers of that event, Professor Anne-Marie Pelletier of Paris, France, had in the meantime received the honor of being asked by Pope Francis to write the Meditations for the 2017 Stations of the Cross in Rome.
Thus we shall continue to bear truthful witness in the face of the complete destruction of the moral edifice of the Catholic Church, as it has been both encouraged by Pope Francis in his post-synodal exhortation Amoris Laetitia, and as it has been also discerningly criticized by Professor Josef Seifert as a potential “moral atomic bomb.”