Due to what appears to be his public comments about homosexuality and the women’s diaconate, a German Jesuit has not been given the permissions he needs to begin his term as rector of a graduate school of theology in Frankfurt.
Ansgar Wucherpfennig, S.J., was due to begin a third term as rector of the Sankt Georgen Graduate School of Philosophy and Theology this fall, but has not received a nihil obstat, formal statement that there is nothing objectionable about a candidate, from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education.
Father Wucherpfennig was approved for a renewal of his position by local authorities in February 2018, and his superior general sent in a request for the nihil obstat the following month. The Congregation for Catholic Education responded in June with concerns about Father Wucherpfennig’s interview from 2016.
In a newspaper interview in 2016, Father Wucherpfennig said he thought references to homosexuality in the Bible were “sometimes misunderstood phrases.” These statements were in response to the interviewer, Thomas Remlein, saying that Father Wucherpfennig had blessed gay couples and asking why the church had negative attitudes toward L.G.B.T. people. Father Wucherpfennig has also said that the women’s diaconate would not be enough to address a shortage in priestly vocations and has said he has “serious questions” about the fact that only men could serve as confessors.
"I see my comments on homosexuality and the blessing of same-sex couples as well within the bounds of Catholic doctrine," said Father Wucherpfennig.
"I see my comments on homosexuality and the blessing of same-sex couples as well within the bounds of Catholic doctrine," Father Wucherpfennig told the church newspapers of the dioceses of Limburg, Mainz and Fulda on Oct. 9. He refused to take back his statements and said, "I do not want to be rector at this price."
While Father Wucherpfennig has yet to receive approval from the Vatican, his provincial , Johannes Siebner, S.J., and Father Johannes zu Eltz, the Frankfurt city dean (a position of authority between parish priests and the bishop), have both expressed their support for Father Wucherpfennig.
“There is not the slightest doubt about Father Wucherpfennig's expertise, his loyalty (to the church) and thus his suitability for the rector's office,” Father Siebner told German news outlet Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.
“Ansgar Wucherpfennig is a priest in good standing and an incorruptible academic,” said Father Eltz. He referred to Father Wucherpfennig’s unanswered request for a nihil obstat as “unjustified punishment” in an interview with the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger.
As Father Siebner explained in a recent interview, Father Wucherpfennig and Father Siebner responded promptly to the letter from the congregation, but they have yet to hear back.
Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg said he is still hopeful the situation will be resolved and that he supports Father Wucherpfennig’s work as rector.
An open letter from students and faculty at Sankt Georgen expressed anger over the situation and called for attention to the authority of the local church.
“We were all the more surprised to learn that Prof. Wucherpfennig was denied the nihil obstat for another term of office despite this unanimous support from the university, the local church and his order from the Congregation for Catholic Education,” said the open letter. “In our view, this is a serious interference with subsidiarity and is incomprehensible in view of his abilities, which Prof. Wucherpfennig has proven.”
On Tuesday evening Oct. 9, the Vatican press office confirmed to DPA, the German press agency, that the nihil obstat is still under review. It has not been denied as some outlets have reported. Father Siebner echoed this on Oct. 10: "I am confident...that the declaration of assurance from Rome will come soon.”
Oct. 11: This story has been updated and the title corrected to make it clear that the Vatican has not officially declined Father Wucherpfennig's permission to teach.