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Cardinal Marx: I did not propose a blessing for gay couples, only ‘spiritual encouragement’

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A screen-grab of Vatican News’ website shows the story of Cardinal Marx saying he thinks a blessing for gay couples is possible along with a story of him denying he ever said this. Vatican News / screen-grab

MUNICH, Germany, February 20, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The German cardinal who caused a great stir in the Catholic world earlier this month by raising the possibility of a liturgical blessing for homosexual couples is now saying that he never supported such an idea.

German Cardinal Reinhard Marx is now saying that all he meant to say at the time was that homosexual couples could receive “spiritual encouragement; [but] about a blessing of homosexual couples, and even a public one, I did not speak at all.” He made this statement on the first day of the German bishops' Spring Assembly in Ingolstadt. 

According to a February 19 report of the German bishops' official website Katholisch.de, the cardinal said the following:

A possible blessing of same-sex couples is not on the agenda of the bishops in Ingolstadt, according to Marx. That topic first has to be carefully prepared. For this, one has now given a work order to the pastoral commission of the Bishops' Conference. At the same time, Marx opposed interpretations, according to which he is said to have recently spoken in favor of the blessing of same-sex couples in individual cases. He had merely said that he could imagine well in an individual case “that there also can be spiritual encouragement; [but] about a blessing of homosexual couples, and even a public one, I did not speak at all,” said Marx. He also made it clear that the pastoral commission will not deal with the “search for blessing opportunities.”

Faithful Catholics are left wondering what “spiritual encouragement” implies. For instance, does it imply calling the sinner to no longer engage in homosexual acts?

In the video of the February 19 press conference where Cardinal Marx spoke these words (around minute 22), he also said that Bishop Franz-Josef Bode had introduced this topic of the blessing at the last Permanent Council of the bishops' conference (a smaller group of German bishops who regularly meet) and that it thus has been already discussed. Marx added that by mentioning this topic “en passant” it only caused a form of polarization. “And then, the very big canons are being again pulled out – but I wish not to comment on that,” he explained.

This is what Cardinal Marx said on February 3 when asked about a blessing for homosexual couples, as OnePeterFive then reported:

When asked whether he could imagine such a blessing for homosexual couples, Cardinal Marx answers: “There are no general solutions; I do not consider it [such a general solution] to be right, because it is about the pastoral care for individuals.” These are cases “where we do not have a rule,” he explains. “And that does not mean that there is nothing happening.”

Cardinal Marx adds:

“This I really have to leave up to the local pastor and the accompaniment of that person. One can think about this in a dialogue — and right now, there is taking place such a discussion [raised by the Vice President of the German Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode] — that is to say, about how we could deal with this matter, but I would say I would leave this strongly in the hands of the local pastor, in a very concrete situation, and not to demand rules in this matter. There are things that cannot be regulated.” [emphasis added]

Readers may judge for themselves what Cardinal Marx really meant by his comments. While Cardinal Marx can say that he literally did not himself mention the words “blessing of homosexual couples,” he nevertheless answered a question about such blessings. He did not say that such blessings are impossible for the Catholic Church to do, but, that there is a dialogue going on about this, that there should not be general rules, and that he wants to leave this matter in the hands of the individual pastor or pastoral worker.

In any event, the Vatican's own website, Vatican News (German), understood what Cardinal Marx meant. On 4 February, Vatican News published an article titled: “Marx: Blessing of Homosexual Couples Possible in Individual Cases.” This article then contained some of the above-quoted statements uttered by Marx. 

Ironically, now the Vatican News website reports that Marx now contradicts exactly that 'interpretation.' On 19 February, Vatican News stated in its headline: “Cardinal Marx: I Have Never Spoken in Favor of Blessings of Homosexuals.” When looking at that article, one can see, in the corner to the right, a link to the original article which still states that Cardinal Marx supported such an idea.

This story of the Cardinal commenting on a blessing for homosexual couples and then subsequently denying the overall consensus of what his words were taken by many to mean is more than a little bizarre. 

Let us recapitulate some things. First, Cardinal Marx makes the controversial and now contested statements on 3 February which immediately find international attention. Then, the Cardinal’s director of communications intervenes immediately with regard to some reports which claim that he had spoken a clear “yes” to the interviewer's question with regard to the homosexual couple's blessing, but Marx himself was not available for further interviews so as to make it clear what he had actually meant to say.

One fact remains: in that February 3 interview, he did not repeat the Church's teaching on homosexual practice and he did not say that such a blessing is impossible.

In the following days after that interview, prelates such as Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes, Archbishop Charles Chaput, as well as Bishop Andreas Laun all publicly oppose Cardinal Marx and his tentative proposals. An international debate and indignation is growing over this matter, yet Cardinal Marx remains silent – only in order to deny the whole story more than two weeks later? And then he states, what he really had meant is that local pastors should give “spiritual encouragement” to such couples?

Mathias von Gersdorff, a German pro-life activist and book author, is now also shaking his head. In a post on his own blog, he comments, as follows:

Cardinal Marx' approach is strange. Did he back off in light of the international indignation and the resistance within the [German] Episcopacy? Immediately before the beginning of the [German bishops'] Spring Assembly Bishops Gebhard Fürst (Stuttgart-Rottenburg) and Stephan Burger (Freiburg) openly declared that blessings of such couples are not possible.

The whole matter seems to be mysterious. Was it a test balloon? Will the planned pastoral commission provide, after all, some surprises?

Let us wait and let us be attentive.

This sort of back peddling may remind some of Cardinal Walter Kasper who, after claiming he had the Pope's support for his 'Kasper proposal' with regard to "remarried' divorcees receiving Holy Communion, later suddenly claimed just the opposite.

Some observers are wondering whether Cardinal Marx is not now backing off because of the fact that Pope Francis is already under pressure for his comments regarding the controversy about Bishop Juan Barros and the sexual abuse scandals. Is it perhaps so, that Francis and his counselors see that this is not the time right now to push that other agenda further?

Is Pope Francis perhaps losing ground?

Other examples of such “push backs” are, first, Pope Francis' acceptance of the resignation of a Nigerian bishop, after his threats to excommunicate the priests of that diocese showed themselves to be feckless; and second, in light of some protests, Cardinal Roger Mahoney's withdrawal from his participation at a diocesan event to which he had originally been appointed by Pope Francis; third, the fact that Archbishop Charles Scicluna, upon papal order, is finally starting to meet and interview those sex abuse victims whom Pope Francis claimed – in light of the Barros case in Chile – had never raised their own concerns. Bishop Barros might soon have to follow his Nigerian fellow bishop and resign.

Thus, all of those who have fought one of these battles over the last couple of weeks might have a sense of joy that that battle was not in vain. It makes a difference whether we speak up or not. It makes a difference whether we watch carefully and comment upon developments as they come.

Let us thus continue the good fight and resist any distortion of our beloved Faith, wherever it comes from.

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