German Catholic Clergy Defy Pope To Bless Same-Sex Couples

Hundreds of bishops and priests proclaim “Love Wins!”

[Gay people] want the church to hold their life in such value that they are given the blessing of God and not denied it. We must face up to this wish. (Bishop Georg Bätzing, president German Bishops’ Conference)

German Catholic clergy vow to celebrate God’s rainbow covenant of love on May 10

In a move stunning for its embrace of love, hundreds of Roman Catholic bishops and priests in Germany have set aside May 10, the day the Eastern Orthodox Church commemorates Noah, to bless the loving relationships of lesbians, gay men, and committed same-sex couples of all stripes. The date recalls how God’s covenant with Noah was sealed with a rainbow, which LGBTQ people and others receive as a sign of universal love and peace.

LGBTQ people are accustomed to experiencing the Roman Catholic Church as an agent of hate and persecution, but in protest of a recent Vatican decree, hundreds of Catholic clergy in Germany are reaching out with love to queer people on May 10.

The movement, which started small in Hamburg then exploded, has a catchy slogan, #liebegewinnt, (Love Wins) and a hip website constantly updated with church locations and times where priests will bless same-sex couples.

The coming event began as a quiet initiative by a few priests who wanted to succor queer congregants wounded by an anti-LGBTQ Vatican decree Pope Francis recently approved that banned blessings for same-sex couples. The movement has turned into a groundswell of loving revolt that will be celebrated in most Catholic churches in Germany, including in the grandest cathedrals.

The news almost makes me wish I lived in Germany again. It reminds me of living in Montreal and facing up to the harsh reality of my pariah status in the eyes of the Church.

When I lived in Montreal with my life partner Jason and our foster son, I fantasized about a commitment ceremony at the gorgeous Notre Dame Basilica. Towering over the city’s Old Port for 200 years, the glorious gothic-style church reminded me of the years I’d spent prowling Europe seeking out ancient cathedrals, fine organ music, and baroque choirs.

My fantasy wasn’t active; I didn’t crave legal marriage. I wanted to affirm our love in front of friends and community. I was drunk on the unqualified acceptance Jason and I discovered in Montreal after growing up with the background-radiation homophobia of Australia and the United States. Montreal by comparison was a homophobia-free fairyland.

My business partner splashed cold reality on my fantasy. “Forget it,” he laughed while we sipped cocktails in his trendy loft right behind Notre Dame. “The Church would never let you, not even if we rented the place privately.”

“Oh, right,” I mumbled. “I forgot.”

Few LGBTQ people around the world need that reminder

Though I lost my head in a dream for a moment, the Roman Catholic Church is fast and furious about reminding people like me that we cannot have a valued or honored place in communities they control.

In the United States, the Church isn’t subtle. While almost 80% of Catholic lay people support LGBTQ equality, including marriage, the clergy routinely treat us like vermin.

The details are distressing and toxic, but if you want them, please read my recent story about how the US Conference of Catholic Bishops worked to block a federal suicide hotline because it included specific resources to help LGBTQ people in crisis.

German bishops, leading a synodal process seeking fundamental reform, encourage priests to follow their consciences

Bishop Georg Bätzing heads the German bishops’ conference, which is so different from the the American one that an external observer could be forgiven for assuming the two bodies belonged to different religions.

For two years, Bätzing and other German bishops have been leading a “Synodal Process” with the goal of profound reform that would include women in leadership positions (including as members of the clergy) and would integrate LGBTQ people into the full life of the Church.

Birgit Mock, vice president of the Catholic German Women’s Federation, who heads one of four Synodal Path working groups, has praised the Love Wins movement, saying, “The current discussion could lead to a historic step: a positive appreciation of responsibly lived sexuality in the Catholic Church in Germany.”

Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen, who heads another Synodal Path working group, says his office does not allow him to mandate blessing gay couples, but said priests should be bound only by their consciences. Bishops across German have likewise indicated priests will not face discipline for publicly blessing same-sex couples on May 10.

The number of priests participating started small but has swollen to near 200 according to some reports, and continues to grow.

Bätzing, who as Germany’s senior bishop finds himself in a difficult situation with Rome, has said the blessings should not be seen as a protest against the Vatican but has not moved to forbid them, not even in his own diocese.

German Catholic theologians join in protest

Catholic theologians in Germany are almost completely united in opposition to the Vatican’s anti-LGBTQ teachings and practices. Almost 250 professors of Catholic theology in Germany and German-speaking nations have signed a statement protesting the March 15 decree banning blessings of same-sex unions.

They write that the decree “is marked by a paternalistic air of superiority and discriminates against homosexual people,” adding, “We distance ourselves firmly from this position. We believe that the life and love of same-sex couples are not worth less before God than the life and love of any other couple.”

German press is strikingly different from American press with its approach to Pope Francis and anti-LGBTQ teachings

In the Unites States and other English-speaking countries, press reports tend to treat Pope Francis as a reformer and a supporter of LGBTQ people, something actual LGBTQ people often find puzzling (and even offensive) given Francis’s evident lack of appetite for reform beyond the occasional hard-to-interpret aphorism.

German press reports are strikingly different, often portraying Francis as an impediment to reform, noting his strong, public opposition to the German Synodal Path and frequently mentioning his track record of anti-LGBTQ actions. For example, a recent Deutsche Welle (DW) report focuses on Francis’s statement that there is “no place for homosexuality in the Catholic Church,” positioning him as a primary obstacle to equality and dignity for LGBTQ people internationally:

Within the Catholic Church, however, homosexuality remains taboo. In October 2015, the pope fired a gay Polish priest who had come out in spectacular fashion shortly before a key summit on the family.

In 2018, in a series of conversations with the Spanish missionary Fernando Prado which were published under the title The Strength of a Vocation: Consecrated Life Today, the pontiff said there was “no room” for homosexuality in the Catholic Church. “For this reason, the Church urges that persons with this rooted tendency not be accepted into (priestly) ministry or consecrated life,” he said.

Let’s celebrate May 10 and Love Wins with Germany

German Catholics and bishops aren’t waiting on Pope Francis or anyone else. They’ve declared that this year, May 10 is about love winning, about including all people who love in the embrace and acceptance of their institutions and communities.

I’m still haunted by that day in Montreal when my business partner reminded me I am too Other to celebrate love in the city’s most beautiful church. I never thought I would see the day when I could walk into a Catholic church and hold my head up high as a fully equal, dignified human loved for who I am.

Astonishingly, it seems that in Germany, that day has come, and it’s next Monday!

How about we all work together to light a fire of love beyond the borders of Germany? Can May 10 come to mean Love Wins everywhere? Can Catholic churches in the UK, the US, Australia and other English-speaking nations join the movement?

Isn’t it time to reject theologies of exclusion and celebrate love instead? May 10, 2022 in a church near you. What do you say?