German priests defied the Vatican and blessed same-sex couples

#ElAmorGana is the hashtag that usually accompanies the approval of equal marriage in some country on social media. Not for nothing was the motto that hundreds of German and rebel priests decided to use for a massive blessing of same-sex couples between Saturday and Monday, May 10, a week before the International Day Against Homophobia. From Cologne to Berlin, altars were filled with hearts and rainbow flags and hundreds of couples embraced in ceremonies led by priests, deacons and volunteers. A celebration of love, first of all and before the Almighty.

“More than 100 congregations held blessing services open to all couples who love each other, be they straight or gay. The response was very good, the blessing means a lot to the couples. They were very moved and many tears flowed ”, said the priest Bernd Mönkebüscher, who in 2019 was one of the first German priests to declare himself openly gay.

The rebellious priests

The #LiebeGewinnt (Love Wins) initiative was a forceful response and a clear challenge to the Vatican, which had recently reaffirmed its strict opposition to the blessing of gay couples. In mid-March, the powerful and conservative Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published, with the endorsement of Pope Francis, a note in which it stressed that it considered homosexuality “a sin.”

Sign of a change of time, far from ending the debate, the intervention of the Congregation strengthened it.

Some 2,600 priests and 250 theologians signed a petition in which they openly positioned themselves against the Vatican and denounced a “lack of theological depth, hermeneutical understanding and argumentative rigor”, as well as “an air of paternalistic superiority that discriminates against homosexual people.” . “Couples in love with the same sex are not worth less before God,” they asserted.

The priests urged “disobedience” through the networks and promised to go ahead with the blessings of gay and lesbian couples. “We respect and value their love, and we also believe that God’s blessings are upon them,” they said in a statement. They put together a very comprehensive website, which includes liturgical recommendations for the celebration of the ceremonies, such as a selection of passages from the Bible, hymns and prayers.

The blessings that were previously imparted in private and closed doors this time were given publicly, in some cases in open-air ceremonies and in others they were even broadcast via streaming on social networks.

It was “a blessing for all couples in love – men and women, women and women, men and men, married or divorced couples”, explained to the priest Hans-Albert Gunk, of the Dominican church St. Albertus Magnus, in Brunswick.

In one of the first events of the initiative, Gunk, from 7

How the couples lived it

Mönkebüscher, who is in charge of St. Agnes Church in the city of Hamm (near Dortmund) said gay Catholics are “very grateful for the #liebegewinnt movement.”

“They feel accepted, seen and valued. They are finally allowed to officially appear as couples. Before blessings were celebrated, but most of the time not in public and in small groups, “he added.

“It’s about equality, that we all belong to God’s creation, no matter what relationship we live in,” Alexander Langwald, a Catholic who, although legally married to his partner, told The Washington Post, had never been blessed by the Church until spending last Saturday before Gunk.

“More and more people aspire to have a more open, freer and, above all, more modern Church,” Tanja Hollas told the AFP news agency, after being blessed with her partner Claudia at the Santa Inés church.

“We are both very religious and it is important for us that our union is not only sealed before the mayor,” she continued. “

They all shared the pain of feeling discriminated against. “I was raised as a Catholic, I live as a Catholic. For me, the sky opened again today because I had the feeling of being a little left out and I am grateful that this possibility exists and that we were able to receive God’s blessing, ”Andreas Helfrich, who participated in a blessing in a church in the city of Cologne.

According to Hans-Albert Gunk, the movement was very well received by the parishioners. “In our parish we had great support and a lot of sympathy. I only received an email with a critical reaction, but not a very serious one: ‘go to hell,’ “he said.

Although in some cases, the response was not so welcoming. In Munich, priest Wolfgang Roth had to bless about 30 couples under police protection, after receiving threatening emails.

In Germany, civil unions between people of the same sex have been legal since 2002 and marriage since 2017, with the same rights as heterosexual couples, including joint adoption.

“It is very common for gays and lesbians to marry. They are present in the church, at mass, in the pastoral council of the parish, it became normal in the opinion of most people. Hence the question: why can’t they get married in church, why can’t they receive any blessings? Isn’t your love worth it? Many people do not understand the position of the Vatican. We no longer live in the Middle Ages, we live in the 21st century. In what reality does the Church live? ”Gunk questioned.

In the same critical tone, the priest and theologian Burkhard Hose stressed to the German news agency KNA the paradox that the Holy See allowed him to bless “buildings and beet harvesters” but not “people who love each other.”

The reaction of the Episcopal Conference

The president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Georg Bätzing, criticized the initiative of the priests, saying that it sent a “wrong signal” and that it was not “a way forward” in the framework of the reform discussions currently under way in the German church.

“Masses of blessing have their theological dignity and pastoral significance. They are not suitable as instruments for the manifestation of ecclesiastical policies or protest actions ”, he declared.

The responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also caused divisions among the German bishops. The more moderate saw it as an attempt to undermine modernization efforts; on the other hand, the Conservatives welcomed it with total approval.

According to the DPA agency, the most conservative Catholics even called on the bishops to excommunicate those who do not respect the clear regulations of Rome.

However, both Mönkebüscher and Gunk consider that those who oppose blessings are a minority.

“Few of the bishops said that they regard the blessings as an ‘wrong sign’ and as a ‘protest.’ We are very aware of how useful the initiative is for the people it is intended for, ”said Bernd Mönkebüscher.

1 year, he affirmed that the rainbow that adorned his church was “a political sign” and stressed that “God does not exclude anyone from his love.”

“The bishops who support the answer are a small minority in the German Bishops’ Conference. Only three or four, including Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne. Some bishops have openly criticized the responsum. Many bishops say diplomatically: ‘This responsum is not useful,’ “agreed Gunk.

Crisis and reform

The German Catholic Church is going through a deep crisis unleashed by the serious sexual abuse scandals of which minors are victims. They were uncovered in the last decade – a report identified 3,677 victims in 70 years – and caused a massive loss of followers. Although it remains the leading denomination in Germany, its members fell to 22.6 million in 2019, 2 million less than in 2010.

Consulted by this means, the priests affirm that they do not seek to attract more faithful with the blessings. “We did not initiate the initiative to save the Church, but to celebrate with the people their love and their request to God for a blessing. This is a creed in the God of love of this church. A sign like this is just a sign, it takes much more to give everyone a home in the church, ”said Mönkebüscher.

Two years ago, the German bishops started a synod to analyze reforms on issues such as celibacy or the place of women and the laity.

“There are many aspects to reform: there is the question of equality for women, access to the deacon and priestly ordination for women, the renewal of sexual morality, the separation of powers in the church, the treatment of sexual abuse. and its cover-up, talking less about people but WITH them, “said Mönkebüscher.

The synod is viewed with suspicion from the beginning by the Vatican, and by the most conservative of its prelates, among whom the Archbishop of Cologne Rainer Maria Woelki stands out, who fears that the German church will separate from Rome.

However, this possibility is very remote for Mönkebüscher, although he maintained that “the church has to decide how it really wants to be … a church alongside the people in the present and in the future, especially alongside minorities.”

For Birgit Mock, vice-president of the Federation of German Catholic Women and a member of one of the synod panels, “the current debate could lead to a historic step: a positive assessment of sexuality lived responsibly in the Catholic Church in Germany.” .

“We need systemic changes, also in regards to a reassessment of the ecclesiastical morality of sexuality,” Mock said in dialogue with the AP news agency.

Pope Francis’ endorsement of the ban on blessings surprised many because he was more conciliatory than any other pontiff with homosexual people and they attributed it to the “tug of war” with the most conservative sectors. Francisco met with several couples, spoke of civil union and urged them to raise their children within the Church. Also famous is his 2013 comment “Who am I to judge?” about homosexuals who seek God and try to live by the rules of the Church.

“Pope Francis sends some strong signs and words, which, however, have not yet changed the teaching. I understand that the Pope means that he places people above the law and is strongly guided by love ”, said Mönkebüscher in this regard.

Also in 2013, Pope Francis said he wanted “shepherds smelling like sheep, in the midst of their flock.” What was perhaps not expected was to end a rebellion on the farm.

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