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Two German bishops advocate for change in Church teaching on homosexuality

The archbishop of Hamburg said the Church doesn’t meet homosexuals on equal footing and criticized the Catechism’s call for homosexuals to live chaste lives.
Wed Feb 5, 2020 - 11:22 am EST
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Archbishop Stefan Heße YouTube / screenshot

FRANKFURT, Germany, February 5, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Two German bishops have called the Church to change its teaching on homosexuality and recognize the “values” like fidelity that are allegedly lived in homosexual relationships.

Archbishop Stefan Heße and Bishop Georg Bätzing made their remarks at the first assembly of the synodal path in Germany, which concluded on Saturday, February 1, 2020.

Heße, the archbishop of Hamburg, distanced himself from the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, as reported by katholisch.de, the news website of the German bishops. Instead, he said, the Church should explore new avenues.

The expression of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), according to which those with homosexual inclinations need to be met with respect, means the Church is looking down on them, rather than meeting them on equal footing, Heße argued.

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law,” the Catechism teaches (CCC 2357). “They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

The homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered,” the Catechism says. Those who experience it “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (CCC 2358).

The archbishop of Hamburg, which is the northernmost diocese in Germany, also criticized that the Church calls homosexuals to live a chaste life.

Heße insisted that from his experience as a spiritual director, he knows that many homosexually inclined people are in relationships where values like “respect and responsibility” are lived. He demanded the Church to do justice to this supposed reality. According to the article by katholisch.de, this exclamation was met with applause among the members of the assembly.

As Heße pointed out, the CCC indeed says, “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

However, what is said of homosexuals, the Catechism holds as true also of everybody else, saying, “All the baptized are called to chastity.”

Still speaking of every human being, the Catechism maintains, “Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge, practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience to God's commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer.”

Together with Franz-Josef Bode, bishop of Osnabrück, Heße had written in 2019, “When gay men and lesbian women profess to be faithful Christians despite rejections they experienced, and ask in the Church for pastoral support on their path of life, this is very impressive and challenges to develop perspectives together.”

Their short article was published as the foreword to a book on pastoral work regarding those living in homosexual relationships.

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg presented the working document on Catholic teaching on sexual morality at the assembly of the Synodal Path. Bätzing had chaired the work of the preparatory committee, resulting in the working document discussed in Frankfurt.

Specifically, the bishop said he didn’t want to “break” with Church teaching, but had called for an opening of the sexual morality as proposed by the Church. The bishop hoped for a “widening, opening, and change of that teaching.”

The working document claims, “Homosexual acts also realize positive meaningful values, insofar as they are an expression of friendship, reliability, loyalty and support in life.” Beyond that, the document demands to call homosexual acts no longer an intrinsic evil.

At a discussion event in August 2019, the bishop of Limburg still said that a blessing of homosexual partnerships is impossible. As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported after the event, Bätzing only said, “I cannot do this at the moment.”

He explained, “If Bishop Georg says that there are ceremonies of blessing for homosexuals in Limburg, then tomorrow Bishop Georg will no longer exist because the Holy Father says that the bishop is no longer in union with the Church.”

In April, Bätzing had said at a press conference that he always considered to be a mistake the prohibition of ordaining men with homosexual tendencies to the priesthood.

In 2005, the Congregation for Catholic Education published an instruction concerning the criteria for the discernment of vocations with regard to persons with homosexual tendencies.

The document said of homosexuals, “Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

At the same time, the instruction made a distinction, acknowledging, “Different, however, would be the case in which one were dealing with homosexual tendencies that were only the expression of a transitory problem – for example, that of an adolescence not yet superseded.” Those tendencies have to be overcome at least three years before the man is ordained a deacon.

Bishop Bätzing is receiving significant backing from one of his priests. Johannes zu Eltz is the main priest in Frankfurt, where the assemblies of the synodal path are taking place, and was nominated as a member of the assembly by the German bishops’ conference.

In an interview, zu Eltz said of conservatives trying to emphasize the importance of the final decision of each individual bishop after the synodal path is completed, “I can well understand these conservative or even reactionary attitudes. I just don’t find them productive.”

He continued, indicating the pressure liberal dioceses could exert on more conservative ones, “With the implementation of good reforms in courageous dioceses, there will be a spirit of new beginnings and salutary pressure. Then the other dioceses will also follow the path.”

Asked about the potential of the Catholic Church being changed into something resembling a Protestant community, zu Eltz declared, “With such labels you can’t frighten me at all. This fixation on demarcation and exclusion is not Catholic. That is the thinking of the new right, it is identitarian. Our horizon is much wider. We have to be able to integrate from the Protestant churches what is good and proven, if it suits us and helps us further. Anything else would be crazy.”

Bishop Heße was selected as a member of the synodal forum on women’s role in the Church, while Bishop Bätzing will still be working as part of the group focused on sexual morality.

At the meetings of the four forums, the goal is to discuss and work out a document that will be presented to the assembly of the synodal path with its 230 members. Only the meetings of the assembly are public.


  catholic, georg batzing, german bishops, homosexuality, stefan heße, synodal path

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