A German bishop's proposal that the Catholic Church could provide blessing ceremonies for gay couples, as well as divorced and civilly remarried couples, gained support at a Church conference in Frankfurt this weekend.

Earlier this month, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode suggested that the Church develop a ceremony for blessing same-sex unions during an interview with Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung.

"We need to think about how we can differentiate a relationship between two same-sex people," said the bishop, who is deputy chairman of the German Bishops' Conference: "Is not there so much that is positive, good and right that we have to be fairer?"

The bishop said that same-sex unions are a reality in the country.  "We must therefore ask ourselves how we meet those who enter into this relationship and who are also partly involved in the Church," he said.

"How do we accompany them pastorally and liturgically? How do we live up to them?"  

On Jan. 20, Father Johannes Zu Eltz, the city-dean of the Catholic Church in Frankfurt and a senior official in the Diocese of Limburg, said that the Church should consider "theologically founded blessing ceremonies" for couples who do not meet the requirements for marriage in the Church.

The suggestion was made during the Frankfurt City Church Forum II, attended by 170 Church leaders. Such forums are used to discuss reforms that can be made within the local Church.

The proposed blessings would be for same-sex couples "as well as [divorced and] civilly remarried people as well as people who, in their own estimation, do not consider themselves sufficiently worthy of the marriage sacrament," according to katholisch.de, the official website of the German Catholic bishops.

Couples seeking such a blessing would need to meet certain criteria, according the priest's proposal, such as "a state marriage in the registry office." This would include same-sex couples, since Germany legalized same-sex marriage last year.

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The ceremonies would also be made "different" than the marriage liturgy, the priest added, omitting things such as the exchanges of rings or vows, in order to avoid confusion with the marriage sacrament.

Rather, Zu Eltz said the proposed blessing ceremonies would be done "in respect of a binding partnership," asking God's blessing "for a successful future of something that already exists," according to a report from the Diocese of Limburg.

The priest added that these blessings would fulfill a "primitive human need for 'salvation, protection, happiness and fulfillment of his life' linked to the request for God's blessing."

According to the bishops' website, Bishop Felix Glenn of Münster forbade a "planned blessing for a homosexual couple" last year, in order to avoid confusion.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.

Regarding those with same-sex attraction, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that: "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. 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." (CCC 2358-2359).

This recent proposal is not the first time that German clergy have suggested the Church bless same-sex unions or couples in irregular situations. In 2015, ahead of the Synod on the Family, Bishop Bode told German news agency KNA that while he understood that the Church could not consider these unions as marriages, the Church should consider the strengths as well as the weaknesses of such unions and perhaps provide a private blessing.

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Bode was one of three German bishops elected by the German Church to attend the Synod on the Family in October 2015.

Following the publication of the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Bode and other German prelates have been outspoken in their desire for the Church to change its practices regarding same-sex couples as well as divorced and remarried couples.