Bishop Kohlgraf confirmed on Feb. 3 that members of his diocesan staff participated in the book’s production and affirmed his support for its publication. He also said that he was soon “made aware” that many different forms of blessings for homosexual couples already existed “and would continue to exist” after he was made bishop of Mainz in 2017.
The bishop is the latest in a series of German prelates publicly calling for changes in the Church’s stance on homosexuality. There have also been similar appeals in neighboring Austria. In May 2020, a book considering how homosexual couples might receive a formal, liturgical blessing of their union in the Catholic Church was published, with one author calling it a response to a request from the liturgical committee of the Austrian bishops’ conference.
German bishops who have so far publicly voiced support for blessing same-sex unions include Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, and Bishop Heinrich Timmerervers of Dresden-Meißen.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German bishops' conference, called in December 2020 for changes to the section on homosexuality in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was promulgated by Pope John Paul II in 1992 as an authoritative guide to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
According to CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, Bätzing said that he believed a change to the Catechism was necessary, expressing openness to blessings of homosexual unions, saying “we need solutions for this.”
The Catechism states: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
It continues: “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
It concludes: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”
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.
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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.