March 31, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – German Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck, who played an important role in preparing for the controversial 2019 Amazon Synod in Rome, has stated that he will not suspend priests in his diocese who continue to bless homosexual couples, in defiance of the new Vatican document against such “blessings.”
As the German Catholic newspaper Die Tagespost first reported, on March 28 Overbeck, the head of the Diocese of Essen, gave an interview to the public broadcast channel ZDF. He was asked about the new Vatican document, which was issued on March 15 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
The CDF stated that it is “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 a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”
In direct defiance of this statement, Bishop Overbeck told the German audience that he would not suspend his priests who continue to bless homosexual couples. When asked whether he would suspend such priests in light of this CDF document, he responded: “This [suspension of such priests] is out of the question for me.” He added that he knows that there are priests and other pastoral workers in his diocese who administer such blessings for homosexual couples, saying that “they give a blessing when requested,” but not in the form of a marriage blessing.
Showing that he agrees with these priests, Overbeck explained that “we show that we are with you [these homosexual couples] and that we experience this [relationship] as blessed by God.”
When asked by the ZDF journalist as to where Pope Francis stands in this question and how one has to understand him here – since he gave his approval to this March 15 CDF document, but at the same time is known to support civil unions for homosexual couples – Bishop Overbeck pointed to the Pope's document Amoris Laetitia and the “complexity” of our world. According to this German bishop, the Pope laid out in this document a new insistence upon the individual consciences of Catholics and that he wishes to be a “voice for all people.” Overbeck quoted here the formula that both realities can exist at the same time – in German “sowohl als auch” – and he had insisted earlier in the interview that the Catholic Church is a “universal Church with different cultures.”
That is to say, he implied that somehow it would be possible that in Germany, homosexual couples could receive an ecclesial blessing, while in other parts of the world, it could still be illicit.
This is also the theme of a commentary from 2020 by Catholic author John Gravino, who had pointed out that the Pope's post-synodal exhortation of the 2019 Amazon Synod, Querida Amazonia, actually had deferred to the local church authorities and synod participants of the Amazon region “who know better than myself or the Roman Curia the problems and issues of the Amazon region, since they live there, they experience its suffering and they love it passionately.” (QA 3)
Comments Gravino: “The idea that local people are best suited to solving their own problems is a major theme of the exhortation.” He goes on to quote the papal document which says about the indigenous and poor people of the Amazon region: “Their words, their hopes and their fears should be the most authoritative voice at any table of dialogue on the Amazon region.” (QA 26)
According to Gravino, this is what this papal exhortation is really about: about giving the local voices an authoritative standing in church debates.
“Thus, a principal motive, and, perhaps, the real purpose, of the pope’s exhortation—and of the Amazon synod—was to develop the pope’s ideas about the importance of local decision-making in the life of the Church,” he writes. “There is a special term for that in Francis-speak. It’s called synodality.”
The German Synodal Path and its open support of the blessing of homosexual couples has, at it seems, been the cause of the CDF's statement against this idea. As Rome Correspondent Edward Pentin recently reported, two curial cardinals – Kurt Koch and Luis Ladaria –asked Pope Francis to meet with the head of the German bishops in order to correct the bishops on their synodal path flouting such ideas as female “ordination” and approval of homosexual relationships, but that request was rejected by the Pope.
In the context of this papal reluctance to correct the German bishops, it might be worth knowing that the progressive Catholic German journal Herder Korrespondenz just pointed out in its April edition that there is a growing wish for “synodal processes” in the world. Dr. Stefan Orth writes that Italian and Irish bishops are now seeking to start synodal paths in their own countries, as well as Poland and the Latin-American episcopal council CELAM. Orth adds that Pope Francis explicitly requested the Italian “synodal journey.”
Pointing to the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Synodality that is to take place in Rome in the fall of 2022, Orth reminds his readers that “by that time, according to plans, the Synodal Path in Germany will then already have been concluded,” thereby implying that the German Synodal Path might be able to teach a lesson to the Universal Church.
In this context, it is highly improbable that Pope Francis will now take disciplinary action against one his own bishops – Overbeck – who defies in public a Vatican ban on the blessing of homosexual couples.
Bishop Overbeck is responsible for the German relief agency Adveniat, which was heavily involved in the preparations for the Amazon Synod in Rome, and Overbeck also took part in an important privately held meeting near Rome with Cardinals Lorenzo Baldisseri and Walter Kasper. That meeting openly proposed to allow female deacons. At a September 15, 2019 press conference Overbeck explicitly stated that “we are co-responsible” for the preparations of the Amazon Synod.
Perhaps all of these facts make it now more understandable to us why Overbeck, still before the Amazon Synod took place in October of 2019, stated that after that synod, “nothing will be the same” in the Catholic Church.