For years now, some Catholic bishops’ obsession with opposing same – sex marriage has led to a vicious crackdown on Church employees who marry same – sex spouses, allegedly because they are in conflict with “Church teaching”. In the USA, there is little evidence of any progress being made, but in Germany, there’s been an important reversal. The German church used to have a firm policy in place which prevented people in same – sex relationships from being offered any Church employment. In Germany there is no legal provision for gay marriage, so this applied to any same – sex relationship, and in effect, was more stringent than most US practice: gay people in Church employment needed to stay carefully in the closet.
No more: in May, the German bishops formally, and overwhelmingly, approved the overturning of the regulation, which went into effect on August 1st, just weeks ago. Already, one lesbian who had been previously fired from her job, has been reinstated.
Bob Shine reports at Bondings 2.0
A German educator fired for her plans to marry a woman will return to her position as head of a Bavarian kindergarten, aided by a new church employment policy released by that nation’s bishops earlier this year.
The policy, which went into effect on August 1, was approved in May by 23 of 27 dioceses, reported the National Catholic Reporter, and will affect 700,000 workers. It cautions against firing LGBT or divorced and remarried church workers, and the policy was warmly welcomed by Cologne’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki at the time.
It’s not only in this narrow field of employment practice that the German church is leading the way on lgbt pastoral practice.A short while back, the leading lay organisation approved a resolution calling, for church blessings for same – sex couples, and also for readmission to the sacraments, for divorced and remarried Catholics. What was interesting in the response by Cardinal Marx, was that these recommendations could not be accepted “unreservedly” – implying that perhaps they could be accepted at least in part, or with reservations. There was certainly no outright rejection of the concept of blessing same – sex couples.
Several other German bishops have signalled significant, real welcome for lgbt people in the church, either by public statements, or by going out of their way to meet them, and discuss their experience and perspectives. In the same post at Bondings 2.0 reporting on a German educator’s reinstatement, Bob Shine quotes one example:
In a more recent interview, Hamburg’s newly appointed Bishop Stefan Hesse spoke positively about same-gender relationships:“We must have an eye on the diversity of present lifestyles in today’s society. . .[if LGBT couples] seek us out, we must of course be here for them.
“What is their image of the church, I wonder? . . .Do we want to be a church that has its place in the middle of the world and take part in people’s lives in order to take as many people as possible with us, or do we want a ‘church of the pure,’ without any existential difficulties or breakdowns? That would be a very, very small flock indeed, with little contact with the world around it.”
The iniquity and hypocrisy of US bishops in the claim that firing employees because they are in conflict with Church teaching is clear. The application in practice is highly selective, being based on teaching against “homosexual acts”, while ignoring the equally important teaching that lesbian and gay people should be treated with “respect, compassion and sensitivity, and that any unjust discrimination against such people must be opposed. It ignores the Catechism command that we should accept our sexual identity, and integrate it into our personality. It also ignores the fundamentally important teaching on the primacy of individual conscience. Those affected by these firings could justifiably argue that by accepting their sexual identity with honesty and integrity, and by publicly committing themselves in love to a single partner, they are more firmly consistent with Catholic teaching, taken as a whole, than those who are firing them on the basis of a single element of teaching – the opposition to gay marriage.
The application has also been clearly hypocritical, usually being called on not when employees are known to be openly gay, living with a partner, or even marrying – but only when such marriages become publicly known. A recent decision by the equal employment commission usefully illustrated this. The school had argued that a band director who had been fired, was not fired because he was gay, but simply because he was in conflict with Church teaching. But the commission found that , had clearly been the victim of discrimination. because the school’s own employment handbook stated that there would be no discrimination on either sexual orientation, or marital status. It is clear that the Church’s concern in these matters, is not in fact that people’s private lives are in conflict with Church teaching, but that it fears embarrassment to itself, when evidence of this becomes publicly known.
It should be obvious that this practice should end. It is inconsistent with Pope Francis’ pastoral approach, and his reminder that the Church should be a field hospital for the wounded. Indeed, Cardinal O’Malley, one of Francis’ inner cabinet of cardinal advisors, has acknowledged this, in a private conversation reported some time ago by Bob Shine, of New Ways Ministry.