February 5, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Eight German dissident Catholic theologians in leading positions are publicly calling on Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the head of the German Bishops' Conference, and the country's bishops to make a “new start” regarding Catholic sexual morality on account of the clerical sex abuse crisis.
They are not only calling for “a new start with the sexual morality” but also “a just assessment of homosexuality,” the abolishment of priestly celibacy, and female ordination. Their Open Letter to Cardinal Marx was published on Sunday on the first page of the prominent newspaper Frankfurter Allgmeine Zeitung (Sunday edition).
In response, the lay organization Forum Deutscher Katholiken has accused the authors of this Open Letter of “instrumentalizing the abuse cases for one's own purposes.” German journalist Mathias von Gersdorff has also raised concern that the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has allowed itself to become what he calls a “propaganda tabloid for small progressivist groups.”
The starting point of the Open Letter focused on the current clerical sex abuse crisis in Germany which was fostered by the September 25, 2018 publication of a study on this issue that was financed by the Catholic bishops. According to the signatories, this crisis – which also showed how many times bishops covered up for abusing priests – has “shaken the Faith of Catholic Christians.” The authors say that there are to be found underlying “systemic” problems that need to be addressed in order to root out and solve the problem, such as “clericalism,” the existence of “male circles” in the Church, as well as certain “sexual taboos.”
Therefore, the signatories claim, things must not remain as they are. They note that there are now large numbers of Catholics leaving the Church in Germany. “Courageous reforms” are needed, they wrote, such as the opening up the “ordained ministry” to women. They also call for the decision whether or not to live in celibacy to be left up to the individual priest. “Make a new start with the sexual morality, to include a thoughtful and just assessment of homosexuality,” they wrote.
The eight signatories of this Open Letter are public figures known for their progressivist views. One of them is a member of the Green Party, two are members of the progressivist lay organization German Committee of German Catholics (ZdK).
Also among the signatories of this Open Letter is Father Ansgar Wucherpfennig, S.J., who has recently been criticized by the Vatican for his heterodox statements concerning homosexuality (to include the blessing of homosexual couples) and female ordination. The Vatican at first held back approval of Wucherpfennig's being the rector of the Jesuit post-graduate school St. Georgen in Frankfurt. However, due to the public indignation – and in spite of his not recanting his dubious statements – the Vatican subsequently gave in and permitted his being re-elected as the rector of that Jesuit school.
Another signatory is Johannes zu Eltz, the Dean of the Catholic Church in Frankfurt, who promotes the idea of blessing homosexual couples and who is a strong defender of Father Wucherpfennig.
Another Jesuit priest, Klaus Mertes, also signed the Open Letter. He is a prominent opponent against the claim that there exists any link between clerical sex abuse and homosexuality.
This new Open Letter – which in the end also addresses all German bishops – has been met with much resistance from faithful Catholics.
The Forum of German Catholics (Forum Deutscher Katholiken) rejected the claims made in the letter. For these Catholics, this Open Letter “is an attempt at instrumentalizing the abuse cases for one's own purposes.” It seems to this group of Catholics that “theologians swallow everything but the Word of Jesus.” These faithful Catholics quoted Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer, who said that in history “true renewal always grew out of a deeper obedience toward the message of the Gospels, out of a revived catechesis and proclamation, as well as out of a radical imitation of Christ.”
The Austrian Catholic news website Kath.net also commented on the February 3 Open Letter, saying: “But not few [people] ask themselves: why does the FAZ [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung] allow itself to be used and publishes a letter of a no-name group which has not at all been tasked by German Catholics to speak in the name of exactly these same Catholics?” Kath.net commented even more strongly on Twitter stating: “The 'German being' shall 'cure' the Universal Church. The German 'model of success' (more and more money, less and less Catholics) shall make the Universal Church happy, that is why, once more, the C-, D-, and G(ay) alliance of prominent Jesuits acts as PRESSURE-Group.”
Mathias von Gersdorff, a German pro-life activist and book author, rebuked the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for publishing this Open Letter in its Sunday edition with the title “German Catholics Demand Change in the Church,” saying that this is really a case of “fake news,” since there are just a few signatories of the letter. This small group of people, “who might have met for a tea party and then scribbled down this pamphlet, has made it onto the first page of the FAZ!” von Gersdorff states.
German Catholic journalist Peter Winnemöller, writing for the German national Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost, wondered why the eight signatories are being called “renowned” by German media, such as the national TV news program Tagesschau. He pointed out that these signatories are, for example, not known neither for their public defense of life, nor for their faithful teaching of the Faith and of the Church's catechism, nor for their resistance against gender mainstreaming in society. Thus, he doubted whether one should call these signatories “renowned” Catholics.
Since the Open Letter was published just ahead of the papal initiated Abuse Summit in Rome – and wishing Cardinal Marx a good trip to Rome for that same meeting – the authors likely aimed at influencing the Rome gathering for the sake of their own intentions. However, considering the strong reaction from faithful Catholics against the Open Letter, it might very well have prompted a blow-back effect. This incident indicates how high the expectations are for this upcoming Rome meeting – at least for some progressivist forces.