A dialogue on the topic of church and sexuality? And then also with that bishop, who had nevertheless already expressed himself so clearly rejecting the homosexual practice? There the waves must strike nevertheless actually highly. But they do not.
The panel discussion on Thursday evening with Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen in Mulheim an der Ruhr is quite controversial. But the approximately 200 listeners in the auditorium of the academy "Die Wolfsburg", among them also gays, experience a factual exchange of opinions on a high level, which was not necessarily to be expected.
For the "Dialogue with the Bishop" as part of the debate about the future of the church, Academy Director Michael Schlagheck had invited experts who, from very different worlds of experience, have their difficulties with Catholic sexual teachings. The Hamburg sex researcher Hertha Richter-Appelt is the one who most strongly questions the doctrinal guidelines. She criticizes especially the close coupling of sexuality and procreation. "To attribute sexuality only to reproduction is outdated."Whether masturbation, same-sex or opposite-sex sexuality – the decisive moral criterion must be whether one harms oneself or others.
The other two panelists, Munich-based moral theologian Konrad Hilpert and Bonn-based psychoanalyst and counseling center director Elmar Struck, also have reservations about church norms. Hilpert urges first of all an open debate about sexuality in the church. And reports about theologians who dared to address the ie and professionally failed in appointments to professorships because of this question.
"You can't just preach renunciation"
Hilpert also criticizes rigid link between sexuality and procreation in church teaching. For him, there is no question that children also belong to a relationship. This does not mean, however, that "openness to the child" applies to every sexual act. Hilpert pleads for moving away from a morality of prohibition and developing a morality of virtue that attractively presents positive values such as faithfulness, unconditional and holistic acceptance.
Struck sees it similarly. He also considers the close coupling of sexuality with marriage and family to be problematic. Many people are not in a position to get involved in "the adventure of marriage", but they do have a sexuality. "You can't just preach renunciation," says Struck. And with regard to divorced people, homosexuals and singles, the life counselor says: "We have to find more friendly answers for people who are not living in a marriage."
Overbeck signals willingness to engage in dialogue
And what does the bishop say? He admits that many people have difficulties with the authority of the church – not only in questions of sexuality. He, too, can take a positive view of the idea of a holistic view of sexuality. Overbeck reminds of the "treasures" of the church tradition, that sexuality is embedded in the wide field of love and that marriage and family are a protective space for women and men. Ruhr bishop remains rather principled, signals further willingness to dialogue.
But he gets very specific when asked by a homosexual: whether the bishop could imagine that there could be a church blessing for him and his partner in 20 years time. Overbeck leaves no doubt that he cannot imagine this blessing, which comes very close to that for spouses. But in the same breath he states that with the question the seriousness of the relationship is addressed. And he does not want to allow himself to judge. These are very different tones from those heard before on an emotionally heated TV talk show.