CNA Deutsch reported that Bätzing has repeatedly suggested that the forthcoming assembly in Rome of the Synod of Bishops on the theme of synodality could help to implement changes proposed by the German bishops and the country’s “Synodal Way” -- not just in Germany, but throughout the Catholic Church.
The “Synodal Way” is a process bringing together German lay people and bishops to discuss four major topics: the way power is exercised in the Church; sexual morality; the priesthood; and the role of women.
Those demanding a change in Church teaching and practice argue that it is necessary in light of “new scientific evidence” about human sexuality. Synodal Way discussions are informed by the “MHG” study on sexual abuse. CNA Deutsch has reported on criticisms of the study by Catholic experts.
In December 2019, a select group of medical specialists, theologians, and canon lawyers were invited to an event in Berlin, organized by Berlin Archbishop Heiner Koch. Among those who attended were Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz, Kohlgraf, and several auxiliary bishops from the bishops’ conference’s faith and family commission.
Following the meeting, the bishops’ conference announced that it was committed to “newly assessing” Church teaching on homosexuality, sexual morality in general, and the sacraments of ordination and marriage.
All participants, according to Koch, agreed that since sexual orientation was to be considered unchangeable, “any form of discrimination of persons with a homosexual orientation” was to be rejected, as was “explicitly stressed by Pope Francis” in his 2016 apostolic exhortation “Amoris laetitia.”
Calling for a “solid discussion supported by human sciences and theology,” Koch and Bode also said that “Amoris laetitia” already provided for noticeable “developments” of both Church doctrine and practice in this area.
Kohlgraf wrote on Feb. 3 that the 2019 meeting still resonated with him. He suggested that since God had clearly allowed for homosexuality in the created order, one should perhaps also accept it being expressed.
“I have a hard time with the idea of a mistake in the creation order,” he wrote. “Or does this show a variation in the diversity of creation that is just there?”
The Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a powerful lay organization steering the Synodal Way together with the German bishops’ conference, published a declaration in 2015 calling for new “liturgical forms, in particular blessings of homosexual partnerships” and “unconditional acceptance” of homosexual unions.
Thomas Sternberg, the co-president of the Synodal Way and the ZdK, reiterated his appeal for blessings of homosexual relationships in an interview with the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung in September 2018.
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In response to the calls for change in Germany, Fr. Matthew Schneider, L.C., told CNA by email on Feb. 17 that “the Church historically has been concerned with a wider swath of sexual sin than just homosexuality.”
He said: “Two teachings lead to the logical consequence that no sexual act between two people of the same sex is moral. First, marriage is only one man and one woman. Second, all sex outside marriage is sinful.”
Schneider, who is writing a doctoral thesis on moral theology and has previously responded to demands by German bishops, added: “Certain things in Church teaching are solid and unchanging while other practices are prudential but must not go against the principles of the infallible teaching.”
Writing for the National Catholic Register in 2019, Schneider reviewed the history of Church teaching on homosexual acts. He concluded that for “2,000 years, the Church has not wavered in her teaching on the immorality of homosexual acts.”
He wrote: “There has not been a definition in the extraordinary magisterium but the ordinary universal magisterium can be infallible if taught universally with regard to time and place. The immorality of homosexual acts is an infallible teaching of the Church in the ordinary universal magisterium. Thus, the Church cannot change this teaching no matter how much certain priests might wish it changed.”
Schneider told CNA on Feb. 17: “How we minister to those who are attracted to the same sex to help them live chastity and other aspects of growing in holiness -- be it following a Courage or Spiritual Friendship model -- is prudential. However, prudential application cannot go so far as to endorse sinful acts of individuals, such as sexual acts outside of legitimate marriage.”