Germany's Protestant Church says goodbye to the traditional family image of "father-mother-children". Family Bishop Tebartz-van Elst described on our site-interview the Catholic conception of marriage and family.
Interviewer: In an interview with this site, Peter Schallenberg, a moral theologian from Paderborn, expressed his concern about the Catholic idea of marriage and family.de unsurprised by the position paper. Is your surprise also limited?
Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst: When you see the announcements made by the Protestant Church of Hesse and Nassau in recent days, it certainly comes as little surprise to. Nevertheless, I must also say that the German bishops are concerned about the development that is shown in this so-called orientation paper. It leads in the result to a very strong relativization of the lifelong lived faithfulness in marriage and family. We are concerned that marriage is being diminished here precisely in its distinctive meaning. It also raises the question: do people themselves no longer believe that marriage in lifelong fidelity is possible? Based on the Holy Scriptures, which unite us with our Protestant sisters and brothers, we can gain so much encouraging impetus, especially from the New Testament, which should convince us that it is possible to live this way of life as an image of God's covenant faithfulness to mankind. In this sense, Christian-lived marriage and family in lifelong fidelity is definitely a contrasting way of life in a society that increasingly sees it differently.
Interviewer: At the presentation of the paper, Nikolaus Schneider emphasized that traditional forms of marriage and family life are "not questioned at all". Rather, the paper wants to "take note of reality as it is" and not speak about the family "in a detached way" or "with a raised forefinger". Conversely, is the Catholic position too detached and too much with a raised forefinger?
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst: No, I don't believe that at all. The Catholic Church sees very well that marriages can also fail. We see a great pastoral responsibility in providing assistance in marriage preparation and marriage accompaniment, so that lifelong togetherness in fidelity can also succeed. In marriage, family and life counseling, we provide the necessary personnel and also financial support. Despite all the difficulties that certainly exist, to which we do not close our eyes and where we also see a high pastoral responsibility as the Catholic Church, we may also gratefully experience that marriage is possible in lifelong fidelity between man and woman in their openness to offspring. These testimonies of successful marriage must be made better known and more aware. We may accept it gratefully. At the same time, we are very well aware: we see the reality, but we also see what God has entrusted to us in the sacrament of marriage.
Interviewer: You yourself just mentioned that the social support for the Catholic position is certainly dwindling. According to a survey by the Federal Institute for Population Research, 88% of respondents see a same-sex partnership with children as a family. How do you want to present the Catholic position here in view of an ever dwindling support in society?
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst: By making clear what is distinctive about Christian marriage and family life: as a sacrament, the love and faithfulness of the spouses is a sign of God's lasting love and faithfulness to us human beings. The openness to offspring, the possibility of giving life to children, is also something essential for Christian marriage and family. In it, marriages and families experience a gain, they experience connectedness, reliability and unconditional solidarity. We cannot do without all these aspects from our conviction of faith. I see it as a task of the Catholic Church to justify these convictions again and again, so that they become comprehensible and understandable, also through convincing examples and testimonies of successful Christian marriage and family.
Interviewer: You just spoke of openness to offspring. But there are also opposite-sex married couples who deliberately exclude it. What is the Catholic position on this?
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst: Openness to offspring is already something intrinsic to a sacramental marriage and family. There are a great many marriages that suffer because they cannot have children. Nevertheless, marriage in itself also has a high value as a testimony to lifelong fidelity. In their testimony, they are also a great wealth for the church and society, that goes without saying. Openness to offspring, the "yes" to life, passing on life, is what our society depends on.
Interviewer: On the Catholic side, there are also differentiated views: Cardinal Woelki of Berlin and the late Cardinal Martini of Milan once said that at least fidelity in same-sex partnerships should be valued. Would this not be a first breaking up of hardened fronts??
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst: Where people take responsibility for each other in emergency situations, in illness or other situations of weakness, this represents a very high value that must not be denied. However, this must not lead to a confusion with what we understand as the original, proper and essential nature of marriage and the family. Fidelity always has a high value, yet it is important to us as the Catholic Church that there is no confusion with marriage in its sacramental meaning.
Interviewer: Nikolaus Schneider expects criticism of the paper, but warns not to raise these ies too high with regard to ecumenical relations. How do you see the future of ecumenical work between the Protestant and Catholic churches in Germany??
Bishop Tebartz-van Elst: It is important and has proven itself that we are regularly in conversation with each other – even where there are controversial convictions. I am concerned to see how we have already, years ago, z.B. have no longer reached common positions on bioethical challenges. We seem to be coming together less and less on essential ies on which the witness of Christians is needed in our society. I think it is important that we are talking about this, but I would also like us to be closer in terms of content. Just the biblically attested value of lifelong faithfulness in marriage and family should receive a higher appreciation.
The interview was conducted by Jan Hendrik Stens.