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:
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?
Bode: The Catechism makes clear that we do not discriminate against these people. As with others who live together before marriage, so also with them we should recognize their strengths and not only their weaknesses and shortcomings. But civil unions are not to be equated with marriage. Marriage for us is the relationship of husband and wife, from which can come children. The Church can help and assist life partnerships in conversations and in positive companionship. However, it is not possible to give anything which is tantamount to marriage. But we will be able to accompany their path with prayer and a private form of blessing.
KNA: Where people live in fidelity and dependability, can there be recognition from the Church?
Bode: Recognition of what is lived there. It is not a sacrament. But if I am open in principle not to always demand either all or nothing, then the same is true for homosexuality. Where that is also of course dependent.on cultural and political contexts Even the last Synod highlighted the differences in the universal Church. Perhaps we need therefore to go different ways
KNA:. What opportunities do you see for uniform solutions for the Catholic Church worldwide?
Bode: There is always a chance, because we mutually believe in one Christ, because the basis is the Scripture and because we have a tradition of the Church as a whole. Indeed that was always the advantage of the Church, that it builds a community irrespective of borders and across cultures. But in the fundamental concept of marriage and family there is unanimity. Regarding the homosexual way of life, we must accept a greater diversity between cultures.