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RC bishops in Germany criticise Vatican Responsum barring same-sex blessings

26 March 2021


Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, on Wednesday

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in Apostolic Palace at the Vatican, on Wednesday

THE tone and language of the Responsum by the Vatican Congre­ga­tion (CDF) which bars the blessing of same-sex unions (News, 19 March) have been criticised by some bishops and theologians in the Roman Catholic Church.

“The [CF] reflects the state of church teaching,” the President of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Georg Bätzing, said in a statement.

“In Germany and other parts of the universal Church there have long been discussions as to how this teaching can be developed and advanced with sound arguments, based on the fundamental truths of faith and morality, ongoing theological reflection, and openness to newer things. . . There are no easy answers to such questions.”

The Responsum said that it was “not licit to impart a blessing on relationships or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and woman open in itself to transmission of life)”.

Bishop Bätzing told the German Catholic News Agency KNA that he was “not happy” that the Vatican appeared intent on closing down debate on same-sex blessings, which could not “be removed from the world with one word of power”.

His spokesman, Stephan Schnelle, told journalists that his Limburg diocese had “sent a clear message” by redecorating its Facebook page in rainbow colours and the inscription “Love is no sin.”

The 1200-word Responsum said that proposals to bless same-sex unions sometimes reflected “a sincere desire to welcome and accompany homosexual persons” as they sought “to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives”.

It continued, however, that blessing ceremonies, as “sacred signs that resemble the sacraments”, could not be conducted for homosexual unions since they could “approve and encourage a choice and way of life that cannot be recognised as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.

“The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing,” the statement continued, saying that Pope Francis had assented to its publication.

“God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him ‘we are more important to God than all the sins we can commit.’ But he does not and cannot bless sin.”

Among follow-up commentaries, the Prefect of the Congregation for Causes of Saints, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, denied that the statement reflected “discrimination against homosexuals”, and said that the same ban on blessings extended to heterosexual unions outside marriage.

In the United States, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who is a member of the Pope’s advisory council, told a Georgetown University seminar that the Pope sought to “approach people sensitively and pastorally” in their everyday challenges, but that the RC Church also had “a very clear teaching about marriage”.

In Germany, however, where a Synodal Way reform process, initiated in 2019, is reassessing RC teaching on homosexuality, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, of Essen, warned in a letter to parishes that the statement had “offended and hurt” homosexuals, and that the Church’s “evaluation of homosexuality from natural law” was no longer understood or accepted.

More than 2000 RC priests vowed in a declaration that they would continue blessing same-sex couples, while at least 200 theologians have signed a protest accusing the CDF of “ignoring scientific findings”.

Criticism has also come from Austria’s reformist Pfarrer-Initiative of RC clergy, launched in 2006, which rejected the Vatican’s “assumption that same-sex loving couples are not part of the divine plan”; and from Bishop Bruno Feillet, the head of the Family and Society Council of the French Bishops’ Conference, who said that Catholics supporting homosexuals had been “left distraught”.

In Belgium, the Bishops’ Conference said that the Vatican Responsum had been “felt with particular felt pain by many believing same-sex couples and their families”, while Bishop Johan Bonny, of Antwerp, told the daily newspaper De Standaard that he was “ashamed” of his Church for its “morally and intellectually incomprehensible” stance.

Bishops’ Conferences in Britain, Ireland, and other European countries, including Spain, Poland, and Italy, have not formally responded to the Vatican statement, although conservative RC groups in Africa, Latin America, and Asia welcomed it.

The French RC daily newspaper La Croix reported that the statement appeared to depart from previously conciliatory statements on LGBT issues by Pope Francis. Some Catholics, it said, had speculated that the Pope’s appeal, during his Angelus message on Sunday, for “closeness, compassion, and tenderness” against “claims of legalism or clerical moralism”, could indicate a wish to distance himself from the Responsum.

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