German cardinal urges pastoral care of gay couples

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, president of the German bishops' conference, celebrates Mass in 2017 during the opening of the annual meeting of Germany's bishops at the cathedral in Cologne. (CNS photo/Sascha Steinbach, EPA) Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, president of the German bishops' conference, celebrates Mass in 2017 during the opening of the annual meeting of Germany's bishops at the cathedral in Cologne. (CNS photo/Sascha Steinbach, EPA) 

Questions about whether a German cardinal and adviser to Pope Francis suggested he could envision church blessings for same-sex couples have led the German Bishops Conference to release a translation of his remarks, in which they seek to clarify that he was endorsing pastoral care for gay Catholics rather than recognition of relationships.

According to a transcript provided by the German Bishops Conference, when Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising is asked if he “can imagine that there might be a way to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church?” he responds by saying, “There are no general solutions and I think that would not be right, because we are talking about pastoral care for individual cases, and that applies to other areas as well, which we cannot regulate, where we have no sets of rules.”

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He says pastoral ministers are better suited to understand individual cases.

“That does not mean that nothing happens, but I really have to leave that to the pastor on the ground accompanying an individual person with pastoral care,” the president of the German bishops conference said. “I really would emphatically leave that to the pastoral field and the particular, individual case at hand, and not demand any sets of rules again—there are things that cannot be regulated.”

This is not the first time the German cardinal has made headlines for his words on L.G.B.T. issues. In 2016, he said Catholic leaders should consider issuing an apology for historic mistreatment of gays and lesbians, telling The Irish Times that the church and society as a whole had been “very negative about gay people.”

In that interview, he noted that the church’s position on marriage, but he also said he “shocked” some other bishops when he suggested during a 2014 meeting at the Vatican that it is not right to say of long-term relationships between people of the same gender, “that is nothing, that has no worth.”

The German bishops’ conference released an English translation on Feb. 7 of remarks Cardinal Marx made during a radio interview on Feb. 3.

German Catholic media had interpreted the cardinal’s remarks as moving a step back from a suggestion made by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück in January that the Catholic Church should debate the possibility of a blessing ceremony for Catholic gay couples involved in the church.

At issue is how the cardinal responded to the question, “So you really can imagine that there might be a way to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church?”

But some English-language media and blogs portrayed Cardinal Marx’s remarks as meaning he “endorses” such blessing ceremonies.

At issue is whether the cardinal responded affirmatively to the interviewer’s question, “So you really can imagine that there might be a way to bless homosexual couples in the Catholic Church?” A report initially published by the Catholic News Agency said the cardinal responded “yes,” before giving the rest of his answer. But the site has since updated its story, replacing its original transcript with the one provided by the German bishops conference, which does not have the cardinal saying “yes.”

That initial reports led some pro-L.G.B.T. groups to praise the cardinal, seeing the cardinal’s remarks as the latest thaw in the relationship between the Catholic Church in Germany and L.G.B.T. people.

New Ways Ministry wrote on its blog, “Cardinal Marx is now the latest German bishop to raise the possibility of blessings for same-gender couples,” linking to articles about two other German bishops who have expressed an openness to blessing same-sex couples.

“Bishops in Germany seem to be taking the next step in enacting Pope Francis’ vision for the Church, namely the movement from abstract conversations about inclusion and accompaniment to concrete acts that help realize those ideals in the Church’s life,” wrote New Ways Ministry’s Robert Shine. “If pastoral ministers now take the further step of actually celebrating such a blessing for a same-gender couple, what was unimaginable five years ago could very soon become a reality.”

Archbishop Chaput said, “any such 'blessing rite' would cooperate in a morally forbidden act.”

The initial coverage of Cardinal Marx’s remarks led Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia to write a blog encouraging bishops to be clear about what they intend or don’t intend to suggest on the subject.

And, Archbishop Chaput said, “any such 'blessing rite' would cooperate in a morally forbidden act, no matter how sincere the persons seeking the blessing. Such a rite would undermine the Catholic witness on the nature of marriage and the family. It would confuse and mislead the faithful. And it would wound the unity of our church, because it could not be ignored or met with silence.”

The Catholic Church insists marriage can be only between a man and a woman. It teaches that while homosexual people deserve respect and spiritual care, homosexual activity is sinful.

In the interview with Cardinal Marx, the journalist said many people believe the church should bless gay unions, ordain women to the diaconate and end obligatory celibacy for priests in the Latin-rite church.

According to the bishops’ conference translation, Cardinal Marx said he did not believe those changes were what the church needs most today. “Rather, the question to be asked is how the church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today—but also by new insights, of course. For example, in the field of pastoral work, pastoral care.”

Following the teaching and example of Pope Francis, Cardinal Marx said, “we have to consider the situation of the individual.”

Following the teaching and example of Pope Francis in pastoral care, he said, “we have to consider the situation of the individual, his life history, his biography, the disruptions he goes through, the hopes that arise, the relationships he lives in—or she lives in. We have to take this more seriously and have to try harder to accompany people in their circumstances of life.”

The same is true in ministering to people who are homosexual, he said. “We must be pastorally close to those who are in need of pastoral care and also want it. And one must also encourage priests and pastoral workers to give people encouragement in concrete situations. I do not really see any problems there. An entirely different question is how this is to be done publicly and liturgically. These are things you have to be careful about and reflect on them in a good way.”

While excluding “general solutions” such as a public ritual, Cardinal Marx said, “that does not mean that nothing happens, but I really have to leave that to the pastor on the ground, accompanying an individual person with pastoral care. There you can discuss things, as is currently being debated, and consider: How can a pastoral worker deal with it? However, I really would emphatically leave that to the pastoral field and the particular, individual case at hand, and not demand any sets of rules again—there are things that cannot be regulated.”

Other German bishops have also discussed same-sex relationships in recent weeks.

 

Last month, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, the deputy chairman of the German bishops’ conference, said the Catholic understanding of marriage differs from civil law, but he said church authorities should consider blessing married same-sex couples who are active in the church.

“We have to ask ourselves how we should deal with people who tie this knot. Some of them are active in the church. So how are we going to accompany them with pastoral care and in the liturgy?” he said. “We could think about giving them a blessing.”

Religion News Service reported in January that another German bishop had offered a similar suggestion a few weeks prior.

“I’m not for ‘marriage for all,’ but if two homosexuals enter a same-sex relationship, if they want to take responsibility for each other, then I can bless this mutual responsibility,” Bishop Dieter Geerlings of Münster said. “This is valuable and praiseworthy, even if this bond is not in complete agreement with the church.”

The spokesperson for the German bishops’ conference said Cardinal Marx was unavailable for further interviews.

This includes reporting from Catholic News Service

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Fred Gray
6 months 1 week ago

What would the difference be between blessing a couple of divorcees and that of same-sex people? Both types according to the Church are committing sinful acts -provided they engage in sexual activity. And we could stretch this logic even further, why would the Church bless anybody at all? We are all broken inside and we all commit sinful acts. Even married people are committing sinful acts if they use unnatural means to avoid undesired pregnancies.

AP P
6 months 1 week ago

Considering that the modern understanding of Scripture on the matter interprets the 'anti-gay' passages as referring to homosexual acts as a matter of idolatry or pagan goddess worship, how would accepting gay Christians into the church be a bad thing? Most don't have sex to commune with a fertility idol and by excluding them from the church, isn't the clergy committing a sin in itself? It's not that being gay or having gay sex in a monogamous relationship is evil. It's that two millennia ago gay sex often meant worshiping a false god as part of a ritual dedicated to it. We need to stop treating this issue as though we live in the time of Christ.

Robert Lewis
6 months 1 week ago

"... the Catholic Church should debate the possibility of a blessing ceremony for Catholic gay couples involved in the church..."

According to Alan Bray's heavily researched tome, "The Friend," the Church DID once bless rituals of "sworn brotherhood," held in sanctuaries or on church steps. She even consecrated the tombs in which some of these friends are buried together, in churches, chapels, monasteries and cathedrals, all over Europe and Britain. John Henry Newman's burial alongside his best friend was nothing new.
The understanding, apparently, was that the relationships were chaste, and whether the couple were or not, the clerics doing the blessing did not pry; for them and for the parishes witnessing them, the oaths the two friends took were considered to be "sacramentals," but permanently binding, for a lifetime. The pair who entered into this relationship of "sworn brotherhood" were proud of it, and mention it in the epitaphs they wrote, to be put on their tombs, so one may assume that they were given honor for their promises to each other by the Christian faithful, as well.
The purpose of such a commitment was clear: it wasn't to promote acts of sodomy, but, rather, to ward off loneliness and solitude, and to mutually support virtuous behavior. Isn't it obvious that two members of the same sex who make such a promise to each other, binding long past the time that their two bodies turn to mud, are in fact, more "chaste" than the serially monogamous, perpetually divorcing heterosexual couples of our licentious and morally decadent American society?

Henry George
6 months 1 week ago

We seem to be sliding down a slippery slope and some Jesuits
seem to have waxed the ski's upon which we are slipping.

alan macdonald
6 months ago

They believe they are avant garde; they are heretical.

Mike Theman
6 months 1 week ago

There are two components to marriage: companionship and sexual complementarity. If God intended for mere companionship and sex for pleasure, he would not have needed to create a woman for Adam.

Homosexual couples were pushing for civil partnerships, essentially a non-sexual companionship relationship, but legally found it easier to sway governments to assign the word "marriage" to their relationships as the law relies on precedent. Incompetent lawyers failed to make the sexual distinction of marriage, and clever advocates for homosexuals equated sodomy with sex. As a result, homosexuals have the word "marriage" in the civil context, but as the Church rightly holds on to the definition of marriage as having a sexual component, homosexual couplings will never be accepted in the Church, at least not until they give-up the word "marriage" and adopt civil partnerships.

By essentially removing sexual complementarity and the potential for procreation from the definition of marriage, the courts blew it for Catholic homosexual couples.

Carol Cox
6 months 1 week ago

One more issue on which we need to adhere to separation of State and Church. The State "blesses" same sex unions with which I agree. The Church does not "bless" what it does not condone with which I also agree.

Mike Theman
6 months 1 week ago

Which is why the use of the word "marriage" is the issue, as marriage has traditionally been a religious institution linked with sex and procreation. Civil partnerships are what the new "marriage" is. There is no longer a word that exclusively means male-female sexual, procreative union.

Robert Lewis
6 months ago

The thing that is lost on almost everybody writing here--almost everybody is American, right?--is that the Protestant definition of "marriage" and the Catholic one differ markedly, in at least a de facto way: the kind of "marriage" practised by the majority in America is, in fact, a "civil marriage"; this statement is actually WRONG, in terms of the orthodox Christian interpretation: "...as marriage has traditionally been a religious institution linked with sex and procreation...". Once marriage became more "companionate" and, thus, more dissoluble, it lost its sacramental (that means eternal and indissoluble) character. Because the marriage of the majority is, actually, a civil institution, the gays have every right to it. Not only should the Catholic Church stop preaching to the American electorate about something that has absolutely no relation to indissoluble, sacramental Catholic marriage, she should also institute, within her liturgical framework, a rite of pledging eternal loyalty and companionship between two people of the same sex, to be given sanctification in public, before witnesses--just as she once did, according to Alan Bray's exhaustive research--with the tacit understanding that the pair should strive for chastity within the relationship. This would be the equivalent of a Catholic "civil marriage," which would, in no case, be considered to replace, or even rival the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
I agree with the writer above that the Church really "lost it," by getting herself involved in this controversy in the first place, but the way she "lost it" was in not being clear about the difference between what she does and what the Protestant majority do. The Catholic Church should have said, at the outset, that she was fully accepting of "civil unions" BECAUSE they pose no threat to "holy matrimony" as she defines it.
Also, I believe that, if the Church were to re-institute the rite of "sworn brotherhood" (which is what I think Cardinal Marx is inching his way to), there would be very few protests from gay Catholics who accept the Church's teachings regarding marriage, but who don't want to live their lives in loneliness, in the closet, and who also want to be fully accepted and welcomed in their parishes, and have their monogamous unions given a degree of respect. Those "gay Catholics" are NOT subscribers to the radical lgbt agenda, and have never wished to have any part of it. They are fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins to devout Catholic youth who sympathize with them, and the Church will have to accept this, before it becomes too late for her to avoid losing substantial numbers of these heterosexual Catholic youth.

Carol Cox
6 months 1 week ago

One more issue on which we need to adhere to separation of State and Church. The State "blesses" same sex unions with which I agree. The Church does not "bless" what it does not condone with which I also agree.

Robert Lewis
6 months ago

I'm with you! (Except that I don't believe ANYBODY should get a tax advantage based on "marriage" unless he or she is supporting dependents--and "dependents" means ANYBODY, from your retired grandma living in your attic, or your adopted, college-bound child; the era in which governments believed they should support replacement of one ethnic population over another should end because "Mother Nature" is telling mankind that her planet cannot support growing density of the human population.)

Carlos Orozco
6 months 1 week ago

After receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, what would the Apostles think of the current accomodation of so many of their succesors towards gender theory? They certainly would not be happy, to say the least.

Just as many bishops of the Church in the last century fell for the trap of Communism, many of the current ones allow themselves to be deceived in their persuit of EVIDENT false ideologies. Sin cannot be blessed. It's that simple. Even if bishops say so and the Pope remains stubbornly silent.

Annette Magjuka
6 months 1 week ago

He is "not available for further comments
since he has been admonished and silenced. Come on, Catholic Church. Stop the horrific bigotry and discrimination. Stop the bullying and judgment. Let's get to the love Jesus told us to practice.

alan macdonald
6 months ago

This unorthodox article could only be found in a Jesuit publication. Is the function of this publication to create dissen

Hannan Ahmad
6 months ago

The AARP Foundation publication Reverse Mortgage Loans: Borrowing Against Your Home is an an easy-to-understand guide for older adults who are considering such a mortgage refinance for their home (PDF). http://sdfdsfdzss.com.ausdfsdf

Šime Skelin
6 months ago

This is moment when I am going to unsubscribe from this "Catholic" site.

Robert Lewis
6 months ago

Because your homophobia trumps your Catholic faith when they are logically inconsistent with each other?

Matthew Kilburn
6 months ago

No, because permissiveness and/or apathy toward one of the most profound carnal sins available in incompatible with faithful Catholicism.

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