Moral Theologian: Same – Sex Couples Deserve Sexual Expression of Their Love

First, it has to be said that same-sex oriented people have the right, in their lives – and that includes, too, the fact that like all people, they are sexual beings – to be recognized.

– moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff

Eberhard Schockenhoff, Theologe und stellvertretender Vorsitzender im Deutschen Ethikrat, spricht am 19. Mai 2015 in München.
Eberhard Schockenhoff, Theologe und stellvertretender Vorsitzender im Deutschen Ethikrat, spricht am 19. Mai 2015 in München.

Finally, an influential, mainstream Catholic theologian has faced the elephant in the room. More and more cardinals, bishops and others in the Catholic church have come to accept that same – sex couples deserve to have legal recognition of their relationships. Some have said so publicly, many more now agree, but are keeping their opinions firmly to themselves. Some have said they see positive value in such civil unions, others are more reluctant, seeing them merely as something to be accepted as a lesser evil than full marriage. But in all the many observations on the subject I have seen, there’s one crucial point no-one has yet dared mention publicly: can the Church accept that couples in such same – sex legal, committed and loving relationships, may express their love sexually?

The German moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff has, in effect, answered with a clear “yes”. He’s done so not in so many words, but that is the clear implication of his words, quoted above.

In an interview with the German radio station, discussed the prospects for serious reforms at the Family Synod in October – and outlined the moral theology case in favour of Church recognition of same – sex unions. (Schockenhoff was one of a handful of lay theologians who joined a group of bishops from Germany, Switzerland in Rome last month, for a workshop on marriage and family, in preparation for October’s synod.

In this interview, he goes further than any other such calls that I have seen, in acknowledging that these unions not only deserve recognition and respect, but also need and deserve sexual expression of their love. Up to now, the growing list of bishops and cardinals who have spoken of the value of civil unions have avoided stating what should be obvious – that committed, loving partnerships between two people will generally imply a sexual component.

The value of this contribution, is that Schockenhoff was one of a select group of theologians who attended a meeting in Rome last month called by the presidents of the bishops conferences of Germany, France and Switzerland in preparation for the October family synod. Those bishops will have heard a cogent argument from moral theology for the full acceptance of same – sex partnerships, including their sexual lives.

He is clear that there will not be any immediate change in church teaching in this respect at the synod, but meaningful debate will surely begin. Consequently he is confident, he says, of longer term reform.

The full interview in German is on-line at I offer here my  own translation:

Politics, Church and Society are discussing images of the family and sexual morality. The moral theologian Eberhard Schockenhoff is looking forward to the great  family Synod in October, but does not expect any fundamental reorientation of teaching. How do you see the large October Synod on the family? Many people are at times warning against excessive optimism, against exaggerated expectations. Are you one those putting the brakes on optimism?

Eberhard Schockenhoff : As a theologian I do not expect that everything will be expressed anew, anything to shake the foundations. For me, a positive outcome of the Synod would naturally be very desirable, because it would provide evidence that the Catholic Church is capable of reform, that it is true even for them: the search continues for appropriate forms of expression of their faith.

But for me as a theologian are included the substantive grounds for the positions that I represent. About dealing with those who are divorced and remarried, for an attentive, appreciative dealing with people who live in same-sex partnerships. If that then leads to official recognition by the Synod, then that’s good. But if this fails, then the foundations will not have been devalued. The process naturally is still valid. And therefore I can look forward (to the Synod) with a certain serenity. So, you set out the substantive argument (for reform) and hope that this Synod too, produces reforms.

Schockenhoff: That is the task of theology, to argue, to adduce reasons for the positions to be adopted. I trust and hope that the largest possible majority of bishops will accept these reasons and these views of faith. But if signals then come from Rome,  as recently on the result in Ireland of a ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage, as a “defeat for humanity”. Do you do with such headlines not a discussion more broken than that you open?


That would not be my language. This is to be considered very precisely. First, it has to be said that same-sex oriented people have the right, in their life – and that includes, too, the fact that they are like all people sexual beings – to be recognized. That also includes of course the shape of their lives.

The Church’s position – that they are not discriminated against in their person and (the church) shows due respect to them, but their sexual activity in itself is seen as  disordered – that is in itself not a convincing position. This position after all is just perceived as latent discrimination, even when that is not actually the claim of the Church’s teaching.

Only when the Church here comes give a clear, unreserved acceptance of these people and their ways of life – then, if it is founded on loyalty – a principle applies, in the moral theology formulated today in this way: Wherever friendship, mutual commitment and responsibility of the people become lived, that is morally respectable, regardless of the circumstances of the sexual orientation under which this happens.

If that’s undoubtedly clear, then it may be asked whether marriage is the appropriate form for it or if not is civil partnership an independent institution. We introduced that in Germany a few years ago. I think it would be appropriate to say: This registered partnership deserves appreciation and it is the appropriate legal instrument to secure the living space two same-sex oriented people, and also the public, are seeking.

I mean, part of the understanding of marriage, that it is the cohabitation of man and woman, is because children can emerge from them. That is their unique importance for society. That should, I believe, not be diminished. When we point to this core image of marriage, we are not discriminating  against the people who live in a same-sex civil partnership.

Incidentally, I also doubt whether the expression “gay marriage” is especially worthwhile. I think that is rather a sublime devaluation. So I would ask the question: What would be gained if we now call civil unions as marriage?

Das Interview führte Johannes Schröer.

Interview by John Schroer.

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