“The whole world woke up astonished to find itself Arian.” So lamented the fourth-century Church Father St. Jerome on just how fast a Christological heresy originating in Alexandra, Egypt spread within the Church with the aid of many bishops. Today we may apply Jerome’s comment to a current crisis: “The whole world woke up, astonished to find itself gay.” It is indeed astonishing to consider that the societal acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and same sex “marriage,” certainly in Europe and the United States, took place in less than sixty years, counting from the start of the so-called “Sexual Revolution”.
As to the Church herself, we must look to Germany to see just how successful the “gay rights” movement has become—and we need to appreciate just what this means for the understanding of and the very practice of the Christian religion. Every bishop in Germany is participating in what is called the “Synodal Way”—a process of dialogue, organized by the German bishops in collaboration with the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), the largest of several groups in Germany that represent lay Catholics. Participants have urged several changes in Church doctrine and practice such as relaxing the requirement of priestly celibacy, Church blessing of homosexual unions and inter-Communion between Catholics and Protestants.
On February 4th, by a vote of 174 to 30, with 6 abstentions, Synodal Way participants adopted a proposal calling for women’s ordination in contradiction to infallible teaching pronounced by Pope John Paul II in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis—that the Church has no authority to ordain women to the priesthood and the issue is not open for debate. Further, the “plenary meeting of the German Catholic Church’s ‘Synodal Way’ ended on Saturday with votes in favor of draft texts calling for same-sex blessings and changes to the Catechism on homosexuality.” And those votes passed with large majorities: 161 votes to 34, with 11 abstentions for “same-sex blessing”, and 174 votes in favor, 22 against, and 7 abstentions for changing the Catechism’s section on homosexuality.
In May 2021 the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Muller gave an interview to Kath.net. When asked if the German Church was headed toward schism the cardinal stated: “I fear yes, but I hope not.” But in recent years a number of German bishops have defended the homosexual lifestyle and same-sex “marriage” and called for the Church to alter her moral teaching on these issues. In February 2021, for example, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz stated that Catholics with homosexual inclinations cannot be expected to live chastely as “the inclination is not self-inflicted.”
Other German bishops who have publicly voiced support for blessing same-sex unions include Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, and Bishop Heinrich Timmerervers of Dresden-Meißen. And in December 2020 Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, called for changes in the Catechism of the Catholic Church regarding the immorality of homosexual acts.
This call for change has now intensified. 125 employees of the German church including priests, religion teachers and administrative employees on January 24th “outed” themselves and launched their #OutinChurch campaign of seven specific demands. They are:
- We want to be able to live and work openly as LGBTIQ+ persons in the church without fear.
- LGBTIQ+ persons must have access to all fields of activity and occupation in the Church without discrimination.
- The church employment rules needs to be changed. An open life according to one’s sexual orientation and gender identity, even in a partnership or civil marriage, must never be considered a breach of loyalty or a reason for dismissal.
- Defamatory and outdated statements of church doctrine on sexuality and gender needs to be revised on the basis of theological and human-scientific findings. This is of utmost relevance especially in view of worldwide church responsibility for the human rights of LGBTIQ+ persons.
- The Church must not withhold the blessing of God and access to the sacraments from LGBTIQ+ persons and couples.
- A church that invokes Jesus and his message must firmly oppose all forms of discrimination and promote a culture of diversity.
- In dealing with LGBTIQ+ persons, the Church has caused much suffering throughout its history. We expect the bishops to take responsibility for this on behalf of the Church, to address the institutional history of guilt, and to advocate for the changes we call for.
It is one thing for such a group to make these audacious demands and quite another for bishops to accept the initiative. But this is exactly what the German Bishops’ Conference did as part of the dialogue of the Synodal Way. #OutinChurch is not simply demanding that those with same-sex attraction be accepted and respected as persons. They demand that those living a homosexual lifestyle “even in a partnership or civil marriage” have a right to work for the German church, that Catholic doctrine be changed on the immorality of homosexual activity, and that those active in the homosexual lifestyle be blessed and have “access to the sacraments”—meaning of course, reception of Holy Communion.
On February 3rd Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, a Jesuit and president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union, called for the Church to “update” her teaching on homosexuality. He stated in an interview:
I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching is no longer correct. What was condemned in the past was sodomy. At that time, it was thought that the whole child was contained in the sperm of the man, and that was simply transferred to homosexual men. But there is no homosexuality in the New Testament. There is only the mention of homosexual acts, which were partly pagan ritual acts. That was, of course, forbidden. I think it is time for a fundamental revision of the doctrine.
Hollerich also justified himself by pointing to the manner in which Pope Francis had spoken about homosexuality in the past, which he claimed could lead to a change in doctrine.
What Hollerich might mean by “the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching” as “no longer correct” is certainly unclear. However, a statement made by Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen may provide illumination. Upon accepting the #OutinChurch” initiative on behalf of the Bishops’ Conference, Dieser explained:
Because with the Synodal Way, we learn to understand more deeply that sexual orientation and gender identity are part of the person and we have an image of the human being that tells us that the person is absolutely loved by God, and from this, we approach the topics of sexual orientation, identity, but also sexual fulfillment in a new way with the Synodal Way.
“That sexual orientation and gender identity are part of the person” means those with same-sex attraction are in a sense “born-that-way.” Such attraction is given in nature. With science supposedly on their side, the bishops urge that the Church catch up with the data and no longer impose an antiquated morality on homosexuals who by nature have a right to sexually express who they are as persons.
Hollerich then argues that the biblical condemnation of homosexual acts is rooted in mistaken, primitive anthropology: “that the whole child was contained in the sperm of the man.” Again, it is not quite clear to what he is referring but perhaps he is providing a clumsy description of haematogenous reproduction, a theory taught by Aristotle. But what is exactly transferred to “homosexual men” is also unclear. If homosexuality (contained in the sperm) is transferred, this actually supports his argument that, well—homosexuals are born that way. More likely, Hollerich is simply attempting to discredit the biblical condemnation of homosexual acts with an argument that such doctrine is based on faulty theories of procreation.
His statement that “there is no homosexuality in the New Testament. There is only the mention of homosexual acts” is correct. But this is precisely the point as Church doctrine is concerned about the morality of human acts. Hollerich undoubtedly has in mind St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul drew a connection between the false worship of the pagans and perverse sexual practices as “these men who exchanged the truth of God for a lie” were delivered “to disgraceful passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and the men gave up natural intercourse with women and burned with lust for one another … They did not see fit to acknowledge God, so God delivered them up to their own depraved sense to do what is unseemly” (Rom 1:25-27).
Hollerich attempts to mitigate biblical condemnation of homosexual acts by placing the Pauline teaching within the context of acts merely connected to false worship—“pagan ritual acts.” The immorality of homosexual acts derives only from their connection to false idolatrous worship. As if to say, if one does “see fit to acknowledge God” and avoids pagan rituals such acts are no longer perverse. However, Paul’s teaching here is within a wider affirmation of natural law—namely, that even the Gentiles without the Mosaic Law could still know the moral law of God: “Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God’s eternal power and divinity, have become visible, recognized through the things he has made. Therefore, these men are inexcusable” (Rom 1: 20).
And it is very important to note that Paul’s teaching on sexual morality contrasts what is “natural” with what is “unnatural.” His condemnation of homosexual acts, and frankly any perverse sexual action, is based on the God-given nature—the God-given meaning of sexual acts themselves according to the nature of the human person as males and females. This meaning is not something the Church has any authority to alter, no more than she can alter the meaning of the visible world that discloses the invisible realities of God.
The call for a “fundamental revision” of Church doctrine on the morality of homosexual acts is a “revision” that constitutes a direct attack on the sacramental significance of the created order, most especially a rejection of the sacramental meaning of male and female. The highest articulation of this sacramental meaning of the body is also found in the teachings of Paul:
Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies…Observe that no one ever hates his own flesh; no he nourishes it and cares for it as Christ cares for the Church—for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’ This is a great mystery; I mean that it refers to Christ and the church. (Eph 5: 28-32)
What is the “this” of the “great mystery”? It is none other than the original marital one-flesh unity between the first man and the first woman. The Pauline teaching here is remarkable. Human sexuality is designed by God, not as mere biological-physical functionality but as the original sign that communicates the martial covenant of God fulfilled in the unity between Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church. All sexual sin, whether homosexual or heterosexual, desecrates this language of the body.
What Hollerich and the German bishops propose in their excusal and approval of the homosexual lifestyle is actually the dissolution of the marital order of redemption emptying the human body of any objective meaning in relation to the human person. Nothing could be more contrary to Catholicism—a religion whose very worship relies on the ontological significance of the material world.
The #OutinChurch campaign believes those active in a homosexual lifestyle have a right to ecclesial employment despite their public opposition to the very moral teachings of the institution for which they work. No other organization would be expected to employ workers who did not agree with, and indeed were actively working against the principles of the group, business, or institution providing them with a paycheck. Can you imagine Planned Parenthood being forced to keep on an employee who openly promoted the right-to-life of the unborn and talked women out of abortions scheduled for the procedure? Hardly! But of course, when the employers themselves—the German bishops—also disagree with the teachings and policies of their own institution, then those in agreement with them will be given a haven.
Faithful Catholics trod a difficult path in this matter. The Catechism teaches that those with a homosexual orientation “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (par 2352)—but at the same time we cannot affirm or condone acting on the orientation. I know very well this difficulty. My brother Paul, with whom I was very close, “came out” to our family many years ago—and eventually died of AIDS. I loved him, he knew that I loved him, and he also knew I could not support his “gay” lifestyle. On his death bed, he recited with me his final Act of Contrition.
Regarding the Arian heresy, St. Jerome wrote: “The ship of the Apostles was in peril, she was driven by the wind, her sides beaten with the waves: no hope was now left. But the Lord awoke and bade the tempest cease; the beast died, and there was a calm once again.” We may dare hope the current crisis of the German church will find such a resolution.
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