Category Archives: Marriage / family

German Synod Father Supports Same – Sex Blessings

One intriguing feature of the Synod on Marriage and Family next month, is that at least two bishops have gone on record as stating that they support the principle of church blessings for same – sex couples. Bishop Bonny of Belgium is one. Bishop Bode of Germany is another.

In an interview with the German Catholic News Agency KNA, Bishop Bode of Osterbruck discussed his expectations from the synod, in general terms, for those who are divorced and remarried – and for homosexuals, and especially those in stable same – sex relationships.
What I find particularly interesting about this interview, is that he does more than simply express support for the principle of church blessings for gay couples, he points to a way in which this might actually become feasible.
First, he points to the well- established but often ignored feature of Catholic teaching, that there should be no discrimination against homosexuals. Like many others, he repeats an insistence that gay unions cannot be treated as marriage, which can only be between a man and a woman, and open to procreation. That is differentiation, not discrimination.  However, he notes that there are other Catholics in sexual relationships that do not conform to Church teaching, such as those who are cohabiting without marriage. To treat same – sex couples differently to those, in pastoral practice he says, is discrimination, and therefore unacceptable. So, in responding to same – sex couples, pastors should look to the good in their relationships, not merely at what is out of step with teaching – just as they do with other Catholics in irregular situations.
Next, he notes that while any form of recognition comparable to marriage is impossible for the Catholic Church, it is possible to offer some form of prayer and informal blessing, where the pastor is able to judge the quality of the relationship to be suitable. Note the qualification though – these should be “private” blessings, which presumably means in a household setting, not actually in Church.
Third, he notes that although the strength of the Catholic Church is its universality, a community cutting across cultural boundaries, nevertheless we need to take account of geographic differences in social and political contexts. (Interestingly, some African bishops have made exactly the same point, from a different perspective).  That being so, he speculates that it is possible, for pastors in some areas to be granted a degree of autonomy in these decisions, so that where same – sex couples are socially commonplace and legally provided for, perhaps in these countries (including his own Germany), such blessings could be authorized – but not elsewhere.
Now recall that when Germany’s largest lay organization called for the introduction of church blessings for gay and lesbian couples, the response by Cardinal Marx was that their request could not be accepted “unreservedly” – implying a possible acceptance, with reservations. Perhaps Bishop Bode’s qualifications, are just such reservations. I also speculated along exactly these lines myself, when Cardinal Marx’s response became public.
I have published the full interview, covering divorce and general expectations, at The Queer Church Repository, in the original German, and in an English translation from the Duolingo community.
Below, I reproduce the relevant sections with specific reference to homosexuals, and their relationships:
d460f-gay-marriage
KNA: A big issue will be the dealings with homosexuals and a religious recognition of their stable partnerships.   Is there any indication of a solution for that?  

Continue reading German Synod Father Supports Same – Sex Blessings

Swiss Theologians, on Blessing Same – Sex Couples

Could the Family Synod next month give approval to church blessings for same – sex couples? Even the most optimistic Catholic might think that a stretch, but some Swiss theologians seem to think otherwise.  We should remember though, that many Protestant churches in Europe and North America have already accepted either church blessings, or full equal marriage for all couples, or are considering these as serious options. In the Catholic Church, the largest lay organization in Germany has explicitly asked for approval for such church blessings – and the request was not rejected out of hand by the senior cardinal.

Even if it is unlikely to happen at the synod, it is worth noting that there is serious thought being given to it, and to the specific arguments being advanced. (Recall that just a few years ago, Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna hit the news for saying, almost as an aside, that it was time for the Church to move away from obsessing over homosexual genital acts, and focus instead on the quality of the relationships. That sentiment has now become almost commonplace among notable bishops and theologians, and underlies the points made in this article.

If it does not happen just yet, it is surely the shape of things to come.

Read in the original French at  Cath.ch , or read my very free translation below:

illustration-800x450

Same-sex couples: towards a blessing? – cath.ch

Switzerland  
A clear answer about same-sex couples is expected from the next Synod on the family  
Lausanne, 16 March 2015.

Continue reading Swiss Theologians, on Blessing Same – Sex Couples

Philippine Bishops Attempt to Square the Circle on Gay Unions!

Philippine Catholics are urged to respect the dignity of homosexuals – but to stay away from even attending any ceremony, legal or religious, to celebrate gay unions. Politicians especially, but also all Catholics, are urged to strongly resist all unjust laws – for example, legal recognition of civil unions.

The bishops’ pastoral letter is titled “The Dignity and Vocation of Homosexual Persons,” Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

The last time these bishops took on the politicians, on a law to expand family planning access to the poor as well as the rich, they lost badly. It may take a while, but they will lose this one too – just like the bishops of most of Western Europe, North America, and much of South America.

(The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines head) urged Catholics to oppose all gravely unjust laws – including all laws that legalize homosexual unions.

!!!!!!!!

 

“They are at the same time called, perhaps even more so in societies that legally recognize homosexual unions, to be charitable to every single homosexual person they know,”

BUT —–:

…. in situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. ……..  “Concretely, this means that Catholics cannot participate in any way or even attend religious or legal ceremonies that celebrate and legitimize homosexual unions.”

The Church, he says, must reach out “in compassion” to families whose loved ones have entered such unions – and this episcopal compassion includes instructing Filipino mothers to stay away from their sons’ and daughters’ weddings, if they are marrying same – sex partners!

Understandably, this will be a particularly heavy cross for families that have been touched by homosexuality but Villegas said the Church reaches out with compassion to these families whose loved ones have entered into such unions.

Full report at   Tempo 

African Bishop’s Call for Incremental Marriage Process

One of the observations at the Nairobi conference on preparation for the 2015 Family Synod, by the Kenyan Bishop of Malindi, Emanuel Barbara, should be of interest to all. For Africans, he said, seeing marriage as a single, one-step process of saying “I do”, is in conflict with the traditional African understanding of marriage as a gradual process, beginning when a couple start to live together, and only formalized some time later. He criticizes the Church’s insistence on a formal sacrament of matrimony before approval for living together in universal marriage practice as the imposition of a “Latin, German culture” on Africans.

We could expect Pope Francis to have some sympathy with this. In his recent visit to South America, he apologized for the way in which European colonists and missionaries had imposed their cultural norms on indigenous peoples. What he did not say, but should have done, was that this cultural colonialism of the mind, included ideas of sexual morality that had nothing to do with the Gospels.

Where Bishop Barbara is mistaken however, is his belief that an incremental approach to the marriage process is specifically African. In fact, as the Catholic lay theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler have shown. this was for many centuries, also common practice in Europe, where there used to be a clear distinction between “marriage” and “wedding”.

“Marriage”, they argue, used to be seen as a private commitment between two people, which began when they started to live together in a committed, faithful sexual relationship in a shared home. The “wedding” was a public celebration of that marriage, which followed later, often with the onset of pregnancy or childbirth, (For poorer people who could not afford it, there might never be a wedding). Conflating “marriage” and “wedding” into the single event of “matrimony” is a relatively late development. Seen in historical perspective, the Vatican insistence on avoiding cohabitation before “marriage” is a nonsense: marriage used to begin with cohabitation. Avoiding cohabitation before the church wedding, is not only in conflict with African culture, it’s also in conflict with widespread European practice of earlier centuries – and is also no longer practised by real – world Catholics even in the modern West.

This is an important issue that the theologians really should be grappling with. It will be a challenge though, because it is in absolute conflict with the assumption in Vatican doctrine that the only licit sexual activity is after marriage. Remove that cornerstone, and the entire shaky house of cards of sexual teaching collapses.

Here’s  Bishop Barbara’s observations, as told by National Catholic Reporter:

…….. the Kenyan bishop said traditional African marriages normally involved much more than the simple “Yes, I do” that provides for consent between married couples in Christian marriages. In the past, he said, consent between couples was even made over years — as the couples lived with one another, and their families came to be gradually meshed together.

“Can we still today speak of a universal form of marriage where the only consent — ‘Yes, I do,’ coming from a Latin, German culture — will be sufficient to sanction a marriage?” Barbara asked.

“In the African context, it used to take stages,” he said. “There used to be involved both families before the marriage will come to be something. Is it enough today still to insist in our own culture, in our environment in Africa, that it is enough that you go in front of the priest or the minister and say, ‘Yes, I do?’ “

Related posts:

African Bishop’s Call for Incremental Marriage Process

Truly Human Sexual Acts: A Response to Patrick Lee and Robert George By Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler in Theological Studies, September 2008

Understanding the Vatican Surrender to Italian Civil Unions

In Italy, the Catholic parties in the Senate are mounting a fierce battle to stave off the government’s introduction of civil unions for same – sex couples, but the Vatican appears to have decided not to back them – and allow the legislation to pass.

The report at Il Giornale notes that this is an apparent paradox, but shows how in fact, it is not. Some may find this news surprising, but it is not unexpected: I wrote about the possibility myself, in this post. To understand how this has come about, we need some clarification of key points.

Gay marriage

First, it is not true (as Gay Star News has claimed) that the Vatican has decided to “back” civil unions. That would be unthinkable, for a deeply conservative curia, and a major synod on protecting marriage and family is imminent, and where the question of LGBT ministry is already shaping up to be a major hot potato.  All that has happened (if the report is sound), is that the Vatican is facing some uncomfortable facts, and is beating a strategic retreat. If some form of legal protection is inevitable, it will not damage its reputation by fighting a losing battle. In stepping back, it hopes it will be left with the lesser of two evils. Continue reading Understanding the Vatican Surrender to Italian Civil Unions

Catholic Moral Theologian, on How Existing Teaching Could Support Same – Sex Couples.

What is particularly interesting about Professor Alain Thomasett’s recent paper on narrative theology, in that he shows how existing teaching could accommodate support for same – sex couples, without any change in core sexual doctrines. It is also important that he made his argument to an important gathering of German, French and Swiss bishops, as part of a study day to prepare for the forthcoming Rome synod on marriage and family.

Thomasett

Calling for a change in sexual doctrine, or for respect for same – sex couples, are no longer particularly new in the Catholic Church, at least not in Europe. It’s been claimed that probably a majority of moral theologians now agree that fundamental change in needed, and in recent years, many of them have gone on the record with formal calls for just such a change. Also, there are now many senior bishops and cardinals who have said publicly that the Church should be able to recognize the value of civil unions.

The problem is that the synod has not been called to consider any change in teaching, which would be fiercely resisted by a solid block of more conservative bishops. The key to seeing the significance of Thomasett’s argument, is that he is not calling for any change in teaching, but simply the application of all the teaching in appropriate context, and not a reflex reaction to abstract sexual acts.

He notes, for example, that while homicide is clearly regarded as unacceptable in formal Catholic doctrine, the context makes all the difference: killing in self – defence is not the same as premeditated murder. He also draws attention to the overriding importance of personal conscience, and of attention to the sensus fidelium (or “sense of the faithful”). And so, while doctrine continues to assert the teaching in Humanae Vitae that artificial contraception is not acceptable, in practice, pastoral tolerance for contraception by particular couples is widely accepted. In the same way, an extension in pastoral practice to recognition and acceptance of particular same – sex couples, including civil unions or possibly even church blessings, is not all that far – fetched.

There is certainly no prospect of any change in Church teaching at the October synod. However, the bishops of Germany, France and Switzerland in attendance will be well – briefed on how the interpretation and application of existing teaching could well be accommodated. We can expect that these ideas will also be well received by many of their colleagues, especially those from elsewhere in Europe – and also by Pope Francis himself, who will ultimately sign the final assessment of the synod’s conclusions.

After the synod, we should expect that some bishops at least, again especially in some European countries, will return to their dioceses with an enhanced understanding of how acceptance of same – sex couples in pastoral practice, is not after all, necessarily in conflict with Church teaching.

From the start of his papacy, Pope Francis has frequently noted that Catholic teaching not only can change, but must constantly evolve. This idea of the need for evolution in teaching has been widely taken up also by others, and was a common thread running through all the papers presented to the Rome study day. Francis has also expressed a desire for many decisions in Church governance to be taken lower down the hierarchical chain, for example by national bishops, without referring everything to the Curia. Such decisions at national level would certainly include the application of pastoral practice.

Could this include blessing same – sex unions? Possibly, yes. When Germany’s association of lay Catholics recently called several changes in the Church, including the blessing of these unions, the response of Cardinal Marx was that these could not be accepted “unreservedly”.  The implication is that they could be acceptable, with some reservations. He did not specify quite what these reservations would be.

Already, there are individual priests in many countries who are willing, under the radar, to conduct blessing ceremonies for particular same – sex couples, especially where these and the quality of their relationships are personally known to them. It is likely that after the synod, an improved tone in pastoral practice would encourage more to do so – and encourage some bishops to turn a blind eye to the practice. As the number of same – sex couples in legally recognized unions continues to increase, and as the Protestant churches increasing accept both gay clergy and gay marriage, in church, we should expect that in practice, Catholic blessings of same – sex couples will likewise increase – both in number, and in visibility, just as the use of contraception, and cohabitation before marriage, are now widely accepted in practice.

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  • Gay Marriage, in Church – in Africa?

    When the Episcopal Church of the USA agreed to provide for same – sex church weddings, few would have been surprised. This was the United States, where the modern gay liberation movement began, and the Episcopal Church, long known for its progressive stance on so many issues. But the Dutch Reformed Church, South Africa?

    For the first 50 years of my life, I knew the DRC as a bastion of conservatism in (White) South African politics. Not only was it the National Party at prayer, providing spurious theological justification for apartheid and racial discrimination, it was also responsible for a wide range of other forms of socially conservative policies, forcing their puritanical view of Christianity on all others in the country. Not only was there no Sunday shopping, when I was growing up, there was also no Sunday entertainment of any kind (no cinemas, no paying spectator sports), and a harshly enforced system of censorship, to stamp out anything offensive to the moralists, or the governing politicians. We did not even get television until 1976 – well after the rest of the Western world.

    Since then of course, the country has changed dramatically – and so has the Dutch Reformed Church.  It has allowed its racial / political theology to catch up with the modern world (and other Reformed churches elsewhere), and has gradually begun to bring its sexual theology up to date, too. It has accepted openly gay and lesbian clergy since 2007.

    Now, the Moderator of the Church has made a personal plea for full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians, including access to gay marriage, in Church. Continue reading Gay Marriage, in Church – in Africa?