German diocese hires self-identified transgender man to teach religious ed

Transgender Juanje Garrido/Shutterstock

A German diocese has defended its decision to grant a biological female who identifies as a transgender man permission to teach Catholic religion to schoolchildren, amid questions over whether it is attempting to sidestep canon law and the Catholic Church's teaching on sexual morality.

“I can confirm that Mr. Theo Schenkel is granted a permanent teaching license for Catholic religious education in state schools,” a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Freiburg told CNA on April 7. 

Since canon law precluded the trainee teacher from receiving the requisite Missio Canonica of the bishop, the diocese said it had issued the teacher with an "unlimited teaching permission,” signed by the vicar general. Both the diocese and the state school authority consider this authorization sufficient for Schenkel to teach Catholic religion classes, media reported. 

However, the case could yet create further problems, Schenkel told local news media in February, given plans for the teacher and a female companion to marry. This would be considered a same-sex marriage by the Catholic Church, Schenkel told a regional newspaper. According to media reports, the trainee teacher had commenced studies of French and Catholicism while still living as a heterosexual woman and was in a relationship with a man. 

In answer to an email inquiry by CNA Deutsch, the diocese said the decision to permit the self-identifying trans man to teach Catholic religion was made for that person’s individual case only. 

When asked about how this could be congruent with canon law and employment regulations, the diocese told CNA that “Church labor laws are currently being reworked by the German bishops.”

A number of German dioceses have already announced they no longer preclude LGBT-identifying staff from working for the Church. These announcements followed a day of defiance against the Vatican by priests and pastoral workers blessing homosexual unions in Germany in May 10, 2021. It also follows the high-profile campaign “Out in Church,” an initiative supported with a documentary broadcast in prime time by German state media. Theo Schenkel was one of the persons featured in the movie.

The campaign was welcomed by Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen on behalf of the German Bishops' Conference in a video to mark the occasion

This initiative also published a “manifesto” that demanded, amongst other things, “a change of the discriminatory church labor law.” 

In February, participants in the German “Synodal Way” voted in favor of draft documents calling for same-sex blessings and the revision of Catholic teaching on homosexuality.

In the same month, another prominent European Church leader, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., was asked by the German Catholic news agency KNA how he dealt “with the Church teaching that homosexuality is a sin.”

He replied: “I believe that this is wrong. But I also believe that we are thinking ahead in doctrine here. The way the pope has expressed himself in the past, this can lead to a change in doctrine. Because I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching is no longer correct.”

Hollerich, the archbishop of Luxembourg, will play a central role in the upcoming Synod on Synodality in Rome, serving as relator general. He is also president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE).

The Catechism, which Pope John Paul II described as “a sure norm for teaching the faith,” says: “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.”

As the Catechism explains, “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.”

It continues: “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.”

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