The “Synodal Way,” a conference consisting of German bishops, priests, religious, and laity, on Friday approved a draft document that appears to undermine Catholic doctrine on fundamental points of sexual morality, offering a defense of homosexual relationships, “self-stimulating sexuality,” contraception, and civil divorce and remarriage.
The document, titled “Living in Successful Relationships – Living Love in Sexuality and Partnership,” is described by Vatican News as giving “a clear rejection to so-called conversion therapies for homosexuals” and as pleading on behalf of “homosexual partnerships as well as remarried divorcees ‘to be able to see themselves under the blessing of God expressly granted by the church.’” However, the document reaffirmed the doctrine that sacramental marriage is only between a man and a woman.
The document also “moves away from a radical condemnation of masturbation,” notes Vatican News.
The document was approved by the Synodal Way in a 168 to 28, vote with five abstentions. Sixty-nine of the Synodal Assembly members are German bishops. Another sixty-nine are members of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a prominent organization of Catholic laity that has a history of dissent from Catholic doctrine and practice. The remaining 37 members are elected representatives of German priests and those in religious life.
No tally identifying the votes of individual members has been published by the Synodal Way.
The ZdK’s history of dissent includes a 2015 declaration that endorsed the blessing of homosexual unions, and a study commissioned that concluded that the Church’s condemnation of homosexuality had contributed to the sex abuse crisis.
The powerful influence of the ZdK appears in the document’s unexplained claim, made in the preamble, that “the Church’s sexual ethics has also favored the crimes of sexual abuse in the Church. We sincerely ask for forgiveness of all people who have suffered from the effects of church teaching on sexuality.”
The preamble of the document also claims “knowledge of the human sciences” should be the basis for ensuring “a change in the teaching and practice of the Church in dealing with human sexuality.” Elsewhere in the document such changes are characterized as different forms of “accentuation” or emphasis, rather than a change in doctrinal content.
The basic text criticizes the Catholic Church’s condemnation of contraception and its insistence in affirming the procreative function of the sexual act, claiming that most people see the teaching of the Catholic Church on the immorality of contraception as “a misunderstanding of the human significance of human sexuality for every person and as an implausible imposition.”
It also defends masturbation as opening up “the possibility of discovering and experiencing oneself physically” and experiencing “pleasure, identity and transcendence,” and claims that homosexual relationships “should always be recognized without reservation” if they are characterized by “love and compassion.”
Homosexual orientation should not be a “basis for exclusion” from ordination to the clergy, the text states, claiming that homosexuality “is not a risk factor for sexual abuse,” nor an illness.
The document remains in draft form and must be approved a second time when the Synodal Way meets again in early 2022 before it is made official. It will then be presented to the Vatican for approval, according to Synodal Way organizers.
Other draft documents approved for future review reportedly questioned priestly celibacy and applauded the notion of ordaining women to the priesthood, something that Pope John Paul II said the Church had “no authority whatsoever” to do, decreeing in 1994 that “this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
The endorsement of blessing homosexual unions by the “Synodal Way” was made in defiance of repeated admonitions made by Pope Francis and his allies among the cardinals, who have warned the Synodal Way against radical departures from Catholic doctrine not endorsed by the pope.
In particular, the document appears to be a direct contradiction of a recent declaration by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith repudiating blessings of homosexual unions and other “partnerships” involving extra-marital sexual activity. Pope Francis approved the declaration, which appeared as a “dubium” or answer to a question submitted to the congregation, in February of this year.
To the question, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the Congregation answered, “Negative,” explaining that “it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”
“The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan,” the Congregation added, noting that such blessings “would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing invoked on the man and woman united in the sacrament of Matrimony,” and quoting Pope Francis’ statement that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
The leadership of the German bishops appeared to have little concern for potential conflict with the Vatican. The Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference and President of the Synodal Way, Bishop Dr. Georg Bätzing, was quoted as saying: “There were texts debated that are not just texts, but dreams put into words about how we want to change the church in Germany: a church that is participatory, gender equitable, and journeys with people.”
Bätzing reportedly lashed out at the Vatican last Monday, according to Francis X. Rocca at the Wall Street Journal, decrying “warning words or clarifications from the Roman Curia on questions that have long been answered in our enlightened and freedom-loving society,” and adding that the prohibition of blessing homosexual unions had provoked “indignation and head-shaking among many people.”
The Synodal Way’s Vice President, Dr. Franz-Josef Bode, Bishop of Osnabrück, hailed the completion of this year’s Synodal Way session as “a decisive step for a growing synodality,” and expressed hope that the synod’s decision would be incorporated into the “worldwide Synodal Way,” and that there would be a “real dialogue soon” with the Vatican and Pope Francis.
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