Co-chair of the Synodal Forum on Sexuality on the Vatican Declaration

ZdK Vice-President Mock: A framework is needed for acts of blessing

Bonn - With the Vatican declaration "Fiducia supplicans", blessings of same-sex couples are possible, but should not be ritualised. What does this mean for the decisions of the Synodal Path? Birgit Mock, who chaired the relevant synodal forum, comments on this in an interview with katholisch.de.

Published  on 20.12.2023 at 12:00  – by Matthias Altmann

What do the leading protagonists of the Synodal Path think of the Roman declaration "Fiducia supplicans", which allows the blessing of same-sex and remarried/divorced couples - and what does it mean for the resolutions passed by the process, especially with regard to the planned handout on blessing ceremonies? Birgit Mock, Vice President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), who co-chaired the synodal forum "Living in successful relationships and partnerships" together with Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen, is pleased with the paper from the Vatican. She announces that work will now continue as planned in Germany.

Question: Mrs Mock, some observers, theologians and reform advocates are talking about the Vatican statement on blessings as a ground-breaking decision. On closer inspection, however, it seems to be a "little reform" at best. How do you assess this - especially in light of what the Synodal Way has spoken out in favour of?

Mock: I consider the Roman declaration on blessing to be a breakthrough. What made me really happy was that the power of blessing and the unconditional blessing offered was emphasised. I think that is what is really new about this declaration.

Question: Have you listened to the Synodal Forum? What is the mood there?

Mock: We had a lot of contact after the declaration was published because there was great joy about it. We have been working on this topic in Germany for so many years, and we have done so in order to open up this possibility together with the couples who ask for a blessing; in order to strengthen the pastors who are already blessing and to make it clear that it is not acceptable for pastors to have to expect disciplinary consequences. We want to make it clear that the blessing is also a very important sign for the couples' families and the community in which they live. Because we are firmly convinced that God has long since found Himself in the love of this couple.

Question: But now some people are saying that the declaration only confirms what was already possible in practice: a blessing like the one in the declaration could always have been given.

Mock: Until now, there was always the question of whether the Church's teaching on relationships and sexuality had to be changed before a blessing could be given. In the current declaration, it is the other way round: the doctrine of the Church has not (yet) been changed, but blessing is possible. In my view, this opens up a very important bridge into practice - a practice that we have had in Germany for many years and which is thus greatly strengthened.

Blessing ceremony for couples who love each other
Bild: ©picture alliance/dpa/Fabian Strauch

"Until now, there was always the question of whether the Church's teaching on relationships and sexuality had to be changed before a blessing could be given. In the current declaration, it's the other way round: the Church's teaching has not (yet) been changed, but the blessing is possible," says Birgit Mock.

Question: But the Synodal Path clearly argued in favour of a re-evaluation of homosexuality and the situation of remarried and divorced couples. However, the document does not want to move away from the existing doctrine, it is even explicitly confirmed. Can the declaration simply be seen as a small concession to progressive movements that does not want to address the core of the issue, i.e. a change in doctrine? Or is there a small change in awareness in it?

Mock: I read the document in relation to the doctrine of couple relationships and sexuality as meaning that nothing has changed in the doctrine. But the Vatican declaration now makes it possible to deal with the tensions of asynchronicity. In my view, this is a very important signal, because church history has often been about the question: can practice precede doctrine? And with this declaration, in which a fourfold understanding of pastoral care and thus a changed understanding of practice is developed, this is possible. I find the text particularly worth reading in the places where it talks about the many forms of blessing in the Bible, where God opens himself up to people, where he promises them his unconditional love. Blessing is in the midst of the world. God promises people care and salvation. This great power associated with this is once again placed at the centre - and without preconditions.

And I would like to quote another important statement from the paper: "The Church must, moreover, beware of basing its pastoral practice on the solidity of supposed doctrinal or disciplinary certainty, especially if this gives rise to a narcissistic and authoritarian elite consciousness, where, instead of evangelising others, one analyses and evaluates others, and instead of facilitating access to grace, one expends energies in controlling" (FS 25). I think that's really groundbreaking.

Question: Nevertheless, is a re-evaluation of doctrine on the part of the Vatican a distant prospect after this document or is it foreseeable?

Mock: We'll have to wait and see. We have seen in recent years that the Vatican is always good for surprises. We in Germany have dealt with this question very intensively on the synodal path and have found a very clear position on this. We are convinced that all people are created and loved by God - and that the image of God also applies to their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Question: In this whole context, how do you assess the clear contradiction to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's no to blessings from spring 2021?

Mock: The new declaration builds bridges by addressing the response at the time. At the same time, the interpretation is expanded and deepened, as it says. This seems to me to be a Roman strategy of building on the past, but modifying it in some places in order to arrive at changes in the end. And the motivation for the changes comes from looking at people and their faith.

Old teachings and new possibilities: The Vatican's declaration of blessing

The Vatican allows blessings for homosexual couples - albeit with some restrictions. An analysis of the paper shows that the path to this is rather adventurous. Nevertheless, there are many new possibilities in the end.

Question: Let's now turn to the question of the framework for such blessings. The document clearly speaks out against ritualisation and formalisation. What will become of the handout that the Synodal Way has announced for blessing ceremonies?

Mock : We will proceed with the handout as planned. In Germany, we already have a lot of practical experience with acts of blessing. We will collect these and make them available, because we also want to contribute to pastors being able to make a qualified offer, so that they don't have to find everything themselves. We want to make prayer texts that are suitable for this easily accessible. Pope Francis also speaks of suitable prayers and sensitising pastoral workers to opportunities for acts of blessing.

We will take up this work in the new year. Every chaplain should have the opportunity to act spontaneously. But we will compile a collection so that there is a basis to fall back on.

Question: Nevertheless, it is probably the case that such blessings, which the Synodal Way wants, are not desired by the Pope: It should not be in a liturgical setting; in addition, everything that could even remotely resemble a marriage ceremony should be avoided as a matter of principle. Will we still find ways around this and celebrate the whole thing in a ritualised setting at some point?

Mock: In our resolution, we had already laid the foundation that an act of blessing, as we want it for Germany, is one thing - and a sacramental marriage ceremony is another. This was also important to the bishops. We would like the act of blessing to have its own dignity. And this requires a framework. We will continue to work in this direction in Germany.

Question: You mentioned that the declaration makes it possible to deal with asynchronicities. What explosive power do you expect the document to have for the global church?

Mock: I believe that this declaration offers a great opportunity for the global church. After all, and this is explicitly stated in the text, it responds to various requests. In the end, the local churches can decide for themselves whether they want to utilise this opportunity or not. But the fact that it is being opened up is, in my view, truly groundbreaking and offers an opportunity for us to continue to be a good world church together.

Question: Many bishops have previously said that they would not prevent their pastors in the dioceses from blessing same-sex or other couples, but would not do so themselves as long as there was no position on this from the Vatican. Now the way would be clear for bishops. Do you now expect them to give such a blessing?

Mock: Yes. I can well imagine that.

by Matthias Altmann