The Roman Catholic Church in Germany is rumbling in discontent, lay worshippers and senior clergy speaking up forcefully for meaningful Church reform unprecedented since perhaps the time of Martin Luther.
Pope Francis and his Vatican hierarchy have so far batted down all demands to discuss genuine reform of sexist, homophobic teachings and practices, but the German Church isn’t backing down, insisting theological reform is not only possible but critically and fundamentally necessary.
The Catholic Church is rife with discrimination against LGBTQ people. But the clergy say such discrimination is not “unjust.”
Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, a self-described conservative, has been voicing the displeasure of the German church since he was appointed head of the German Bishops Conference last April. He joins a number of other senior clergy, including his immediate predecessor, who say they are increasingly frustrated with Church policies and teachings they say are out of step with modern theology and destructive to the spirituality of Catholic people and the institutional health of the Catholic Church.
On December 29, as part of a broad interview with magazine Herder Korrespondenz, Bätzing criticized the Vatican’s dismissal of German calls for reform, criticized the Vatican’s “heavy-handed” treatment of the German Church, and called for far-reaching changes to Church theology and worldwide practices.
He calls for the inclusion of women in the clergy, saying Vatican theological arguments against ordaining women are “not convincing,” implying they smack of dishonesty.
He says the Church has not adequately acknowledged or honestly addressed its clerical sex abuse problem, implying that without more reform, including placing more women in senior leadership roles, the problem is likely to continue or recur.
He called for the ordination of married priests last June, while noting the Church’s reasons for refusing women’s ordination “are no longer accepted” by large portions of the Catholic faithful. He suggested the Church created the problem of a male-only clergy on its own and must now fix the problem.
Bätzing calls for including LGBTQ people, including sexually active same-sex couples, into the full life of the Church. He elaborates on a criticism of the Catholic Catechism that he began in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung last April.
He notes the impossible tension presented by the Catechism, which calls for respect and sensitivity toward gay [same-sex-attracted] people even while condemning us in harsh, morally uncompromising language that is neither sensitive nor respectful.
The harsh moral condemnation of the Catechism —
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. 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 impossible-to-reconcile words of sensitivity and respect —
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.
I have long noted the hypocrisy of the Church’s teachings. It is not possible to behave with sensitivity and respect toward LGBTQ people while teaching we are depraved and disordered, and while suggesting we should be forbidden from enjoying sexually intimate, loving relationships.
I’ve also noted the modifier of “unjust” in the admonition to avoid “unjust discrimination” is a loophole larger than a barndoor.
Catholic leaders ceaselessly discriminate against LGBTQ people
- In a regressive move instigated by Pope Benedict and strengthened by Pope Francis, seminaries deny gay men training for the priesthood
- Catholic priests and bishops often fire non-clerical staff for being gay or transgender
- They refuse communion to gay and transgender people
- They deny LGBTQ church members use of parish facilities for spiritual meetings
- They refuse to allow married gay people burial in church cemeteries
- They refuse to allow LGBTQ people to participate in family funerals
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The Catholic Church is rife with discrimination against LGBTQ people, but the clergy claim such discrimination is not “unjust” and is therefore consistent with the Catechism. As far as I’ve been able to find, clergy members who discriminate do not attempt to explain how their discriminatory actions are either sensitive, compassionate, or respectful.
The German Church agrees that change is long overdue
It’s gratifying to see a powerful leader observe the impossible contradictions of the Catechism and observe that it (along with other anti-LGBTQ teachings) is irreparably flawed and must change.
Bätzing puts it this way:
“Here the statement of the Catechism is first of all that these people are to be met with esteem and respect. But every single sexual act is seen as evidence of a disordered sexual life. This is something that many people no longer want or can understand.”
He asserts that the catechism and other Church teachings cannot be reconciled with advances in moral theology. “We have long since moved towards saying … if true love and faithfulness are lived [in same-sex couples] we must acknowledge that… [Since] people decide for themselves how they live, can’t we tell them that their relationship is blessed by God?”
Vatican refuses to discuss reform with German Church leaders
The German Church has been involved in a Synodal Path to reach consensus on what leaders see as critically necessary reform. Scheduled to run for two years, the Synodal Path is debating issues of clerical power, sexual morality, priestly life and the role of women, with the goal of restoring trust lost in the clergy abuse scandal that has resulting in a precipitous decline in Church attendance and membership.
The Vatican has been cold to the process, to say the least. Last October, Pope Francis expressed “dramatic concern” and urged the German Church to stand down and not “walk on its own.” His statements have become increasingly harsh, stopping just short of ordering the German synod to disband.
Bätzing told Herder Korrespondenz he’s been stonewalled at the Vatican. “I was in Rome at the end of June for my inaugural visits and spoke with three cardinals involved. None of them said that a review of [German synodal proposals] was underway or that they would be happy to talk to me about [them].”
The German Catholic Church gets it
Women are equal to men and must stand beside men in every capacity as human beings and leaders, barred from no societal roles, including religious ones. LGBTQ people are as morally upright as any other human being, even or especially when we commit ourselves to loving, sexually intimate relationships.
The Roman Catholic Church must stop excluding women from leadership. The Church must stop teaching people that LGBTQ humans are depraved and disordered — ignorant, antiquated and toxic ideas. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are ordinary variants of human being who are in no way inherently morally deficient or disordered.
The Vatican and Pope Francis are guilty of blinding themselves to moral progress and teaching hateful doctrines that must inevitably result in great harm to innocent people.
German Church leaders, like lay Catholics all over Europe and the North America, don’t buy those toxic doctrines. German leaders are standing up and saying no.
Loudly and bravely.
Will the Church split over equality? Will equal treatment of women and LGBTQ people spark a revolution like the one Martin Luther inspired when he took a moral stand against the Vatican?
Right now, nobody knows, but I’m rooting for Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg. He knows evil when he sees it, and he won’t sit down for it. He knows you can’t be sensitive and respectful while teaching children all over the world that LGBTQ people are depraved.
Now it’s time for Catholics of good will everywhere to stand with the German Church and insist the Vatican change teachings that hurt people.
James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.