German bishops, associations and theologians comment on the Vatican declaration

"Milestone" and "blessing light": Reactions to "Fiducia supplicans"

Bonn - The Vatican authorises the blessing of homosexual couples: This news from Rome on Monday continues to provoke numerous reactions. Bishops, associations, initiatives and theologians from Germany are commenting on the "Fiducia supplicans" declaration.

Published  on 19.12.2023 at 13:29  – 

The Vatican's decision to allow the blessing of homosexual and remarried couples has triggered mixed reactions. The Bishop of Dresden-Meißen, Heinrich Timmerevers, was "very happy and very surprised" about the corresponding "Fiducia supplicans" declaration by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. "This has never happened before in the history of the Church, this milestone that the Pope is now making possible here," he said in the ARD morning programme (Tuesday). He admitted that the Church was "a little bit guilty" that "we have not only brought people together through our moral teaching, but have also marginalised people".

The paper from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith now enables "a real first step" to take the couples concerned "into the Church and to tell them that the Church is open to everyone", said Timmerevers. Even if many same-sex couples do not yet receive the desired acceptance from the Church as a result, we are now "on a path that will take us further, and who knows what will happen in 10 or 15 years' time". What the Church has taught for centuries cannot be pushed away with the stroke of a pen. "Pope Francis is initiating processes, and I believe that such a process is now possible," said the bishop. "I believe it's not just a Christmas present, it's more than that."

Kohlgraf: Blessing care is truly Catholic

The future Archbishop of Bamberg, Herwig Gössl, welcomed the decision from Rome. It takes up "an important wish of many believers, which was also expressed in the Synodal Way", said Gössl on Monday evening in Bamberg. However, it should not be overlooked that the declaration from Rome distinguishes between blessing and marriage. According to church teaching, the latter remains reserved for men and women.

Gössl sees new opportunities for pastoral care in the paper from the Vatican. For example, it could be made clear that homosexuals may not be discriminated against in the Catholic Church and that they, like remarried divorcees, should not be excluded from church life and God's blessing. Pope Francis appointed the former Bamberg auxiliary bishop Gössl as the new archbishop on 9 December; he will be inaugurated on 2 March.

Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz also praised the authorisation for blessings published by the Vatican. "I am very happy that this text will hopefully put an end to some aggressive rejection and that it will become clear that blessing people is truly Catholic," Kohlgraf wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. He said he was "delighted with this text and the possibilities it opens up". Rome enables "sensitive, individual forms that definitely belong in the public prayer of a parish". What should be avoided are similarities to the administration of the sacraments.

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Bishop Franz Jung of Würzburg reacted cautiously to the paper from the Vatican. "Acts of blessing are therefore seen as an aid to a better life in order to be able to live the values of the Gospel with greater fidelity," Jung explained in a statement on Tuesday. "Whether the acts of blessing serve to achieve this goal within the framework set out in the declaration remains to be seen."

The bishop explained:"The surprisingly published declaration 'Fiducia supplicans' takes the desire of couples in irregular situations and of same-sex couples for the blessing of the Church seriously." At the same time, it attempts a balancing act between the requirements of pastoral practice and the official teaching of the Church, without changing it.

Hangover followed by rejoicing?

The German initiative #OutInChurch reacted sceptically to the "Fiducia supplicans" declaration. Its spokesperson Rainer Teuber told the newspaper "Neues Ruhrwort": "As long as there is talk of irregular relationships and blessings remain forbidden in church services, my jubilation is very limited. Ultimately, all existing formats of blessing will be banned." He hopes that the jubilation will not soon be followed by a hangover.

The Catholic LGBT+ Committee, which claims to be a church-political working alliance for equal rights for queer people in the church, expressed similar sentiments. The declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith maintains the previous church teaching on marriage, criticised the committee in a statement on Tuesday, which was made available to katholisch.de. "Loving relationships outside of lifelong marriage between a man and a woman are alien to it." The Magisterium continues to speak of irregular situations with regard to relationships of queer people. The blessing that is now possible is a "blessing light" and can be compared to a pilgrimage or blessing of the sick.

"The Roman approach falls disappointingly short of the resolutions of the Synodal Path in Germany as well as well-founded and already tried and tested guidelines," said the committee. Nevertheless, granting the possibility of a blessing is "a gift with which many who accompany queer people in theology and pastoral care can feel strengthened and encouraged". However, queer Catholics cannot enjoy this Christmas present, as they continue to be condemned in the Catechism.

Bild: ©KNA/Rudolf Wichert

With the declaration "Fiducia supplicans" on Monday, the Vatican has made blessings for homosexual couples and remarried divorcees possible.

In a joint statement, the Catholic German Women's Association (KDFB) and the Catholic Women's Community of Germany (kfd) called the Vatican's decision a "long overdue step". Many couples had been waiting for this for a long time, said kfd Federal Chairwoman Mechthild Heil. KDFB President Anja Karliczek added: "We see this decision as a signal in favour of more diversity and tolerance in the Catholic Church. It is gratifying that our long-standing demands have been heard." For both associations, it is incomprehensible that the blessings may not be performed as part of church services. They are calling for improvements on this point.

According to theologian Michael Seewald, the declaration of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith is groundbreaking for the Church. "As far as the development of the doctrine of faith and morals is concerned, it is the most significant innovation since the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965," the Münster dogmatist told the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper (Tuesday edition). "While the official teaching of the Church previously labelled homosexual practices as a grave sin and was of the opinion that nothing good could come from same-sex partnerships, the perspective has now changed."

Pastoral style of the prefect of faith becomes clear

The authorisation of blessings for homosexual couples is also groundbreaking in the view of Bonn moral theologian Jochen Sautermeister. "Pastors and priests can no longer invoke a church ban on blessings for same-sex couples with reference to church teaching when asking for a blessing. This is undoubtedly a development," he told the Cologne-based church internet portal domradio.de (Tuesday). According to Sautermeister, the pastoral style of the new prefect of the authority for the faith, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, is clear in the statement. He is committed to the pastoral approach of Pope Francis. "It is not a question of changing doctrine, but of expanding pastoral perspectives and possibilities for action through a pastoral view and taking into account the respective biographies of people with their life circumstances," said the moral theologian.

In Sautermeister's opinion, the declaration imposes a burden on different directions: those who are in favour of a change in the church's sexual doctrine and those who are against any form of blessing of same-sex or non-marital couples. "Just think of the strong rejection, discrimination and even criminalisation and the death penalty for homosexual people in some African countries."

On Monday, the Vatican's religious authority published a policy statement entitled "Fiducia supplicans" (imploring trust). It now allows Catholic priests to bless unmarried and homosexual couples. However, any confusion with a marriage must be ruled out. The document states that the blessing may not take place in a church service. The Catholic doctrine that sexual union is only permitted within a marriage between a man and a woman remains unchanged. The authority for the faith had issued the document with the express approval of Pope Francis. (rom/KNA)