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German foreign minister welcomes day of same-sex blessings ahead of papal audience

Pope Francis receives German foreign minister Heiko Mass in a private audience at the Vatican, May 12, 2021 Pope Francis receives German foreign minister Heiko Mass in a private audience at the Vatican, May 12, 2021./ Vatican Media.

Ahead of an audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday, Germany’s foreign minister welcomed a day of same-sex blessings held in defiance of the Vatican.

Speaking before he met with the pope on May 12, Heiko Maas backed the blessing ceremonies held in around 80 German cities on Monday in protest at the Vatican’s “no” to same-sex blessings.

“At least I see that there is a great deal of openness in parts of the Catholic Church to social developments that one cannot ignore,” he said, according to the newspaper Die Welt.

“I very much welcome the fact that these discussions are being initiated again and conducted in more depth.”

Talking to reporters after his private audience with the pope, Maas said that the two men discussed the coronavirus pandemic, the future of Europe, violence in Jerusalem, Latin America, and the clerical abuse crisis.

The 54-year-old member of Germany’s Social Democratic Party is a baptized Catholic who was an altar server in his youth.

German media reported that he was the first German foreign minister in almost 20 years to secure a private papal audience.

The audience took place just two days after a nationwide protest against the Vatican’s declaration that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued its pronouncement on March 15 in a document known as a “Responsum ad dubium” (response to a question).

In reply to the query, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the CDF answered, “Negative.” The congregation outlined its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

The Vatican statement, issued with the approval of Pope Francis, sparked protests in the German-speaking Catholic world. Several bishops expressed support for blessings of same-sex couples, while churches displayed LGBT pride flags, and a group of more than 200 theology professors signed a statement criticizing the Vatican.

The exact scale of Monday’s day of protest remains unclear. According to the organizers, ceremonies known as “Segnungsgottesdienste für Liebende,” or “blessing services for lovers,” were held in around 100 churches, mainly in northern and western Germany.

CNA Deutsch reported that this would amount to less than 1% of the total number of churches in Germany.

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Observers in Cologne, Munich, Würzburg, and other places told CNA’s German-language news partner that in many places a “modest number” of people attended the ceremonies, promoted using the hashtag “#liebegewinnt” (“love wins”).

Some blessings took place after the public ceremonies. In the Augustinian Church in Würzburg, for example, all couples -- expressly including same-sex couples -- were invited to “come and get” the individual blessing in a backroom, after the service.

One participant reported from Cologne that a total of six couples were blessed in the chapel of the local Catholic university community and a total of 23 people were present.

The participant told CNA Deutsch that the ceremony resembled a “political event.” The ceremony was led by a female pastoral counselor in liturgical robes, who explained that she had already quit her service with the church.

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After some political statements, the Gospel was read aloud, followed by a speech. Finally, the song “Imagine” by John Lennon was played.

Writing in the Catholic weekly newspaper Die Tagepost, Regina Einig criticized pastors who appeared in the media promoting the event.

“Some pastors were not even deterred by the meager demand for same-sex couples willing to be blessed in their parishes from verbose self-promotion in the media,” she wrote.

“In this sense, the initiative ‘Love Wins’ was a highly clericalistic action and at the same time an image of the self-referential Church against which Pope Francis urgently warns.”

The backlash against the Vatican prompted bishops in other countries to express fears that the German Church was heading for a breach with Rome. They included English Bishop Philip Egan, Australian Cardinal George Pell, and Italian Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, added his name to an appeal, launched in Portugal, asking Rome to take action to stop a “schism” in Germany.

George Weigel, the biographer of St. John Paul II, and Fr. Thomas Weinandy, a Capuchin Franciscan theologian, also expressed concern about the direction of the German Church.

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German Catholics were among those criticizing the day of blessings. The group “Maria 1.0” urged the country’s bishops to unite with Rome in face of the protests.

The Pontifex Initiative, a network of young German Catholics, called on the local Church not to pursue an exceptionalist path.

“With today’s actions, the ministers involved are hurting the people of God. Let us not forget that our faith is Roman Catholic. This attribute is not an ornamental accessory. It is the core of our identity,” it said in a May 10 statement.

Helmut Hoping, a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Freiburg, told CNA Deutsch that some of the priests conducting blessings “also openly advocate opening the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples in the medium term.”

Fr. Gero Weishaupt, a judicial vicar in Cologne archdiocese and a scholar of canon law, noted in an interview with CNA Deutsch that former Vatican doctrinal chief Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller and other theologians have spoken for some of a possible schism in Germany.

“And one can ask oneself whether it is not already latently realized,” Weishaupt commented.

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Several German bishops have previously spoken in favor of blessings for homosexual unions, including German bishops’ conference chairman Georg Bätzing (Limburg), Franz-Josef Overbeck (Essen), Helmut Dieser (Aachen), Reinhard Marx (Munich and Freising), Franz-Josef Bode (Osnabrück), Peter Kohlgraf (Mainz), and Heinrich Timmerevers (Dresden-Meissen).

But other German bishops have welcomed the CDF’s intervention. Among them are Rainer Maria Woelki (Cologne), Stephan Burger (Freiburg), Ulrich Neymeyr (Erfurt), Gregor Maria Hanke (Eichstätt), Wolfgang Ipolt (Görlitz), Stefan Oster (Passau), and Rudolf Voderholzer (Regensburg).

Bishop Bätzing, elected leader of the German bishops’ conference last year, said last month that the day of protest was not a “helpful sign.”

He added that blessing services were “not suitable as an instrument for Church-political demonstrations or protest actions.”

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