Out of the back room

Out of the back room

Homosexual couple © Michael Reichel

At the Synod of Bishops in Rome, the treatment of homosexuals will also be discussed. Six German dioceses have their own commissioners who deal with the ie – and plead for openness.

A priest who is homosexually inclined. A father of a family involved in the parish who comes out as gay. Or a Catholic mother who can no longer sleep peacefully at night since she knows that the daughter is a lesbian. Church and homosexuality – a hot topic not only since the outing of the homosexual Polish priest Krzysztof Charamsa at the Vatican last weekend. Because lived out homosexuality is a grave sin according to Catholic teaching.

Dealing with gays and lesbians on the agenda of the synod

Dealing with gays and lesbians in Catholic families is on the agenda at the three-week Synod on the Family in Rome. The six dioceses of Osnabruck, Hildesheim, Limburg, Cologne, Aachen and Freiburg have their own commissioners who deal with the ie – and not just since yesterday.

"It's about keeping the ie present in the institution of the church," explains Brother Thomas Abrell, who has headed a corresponding working group in the Osnabruck diocese for the past two years. The Archdiocese of Freiburg, which took up the topic of homosexual pastoral care early on and also offers services for homosexual people, is a model for the event. The 50-year-old Franciscan Abrell was appointed by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, who as head of the Pastoral Commission of the German Bishops' Conference is currently attending the Synod in Rome.

Homosexuality of priests is considered a church taboo

The most delicate taboo in church circles is the homosexuality of priests. As a rule, clergy with same-sex inclinations do not dare come out of the closet. When it does come out, many have tragic, very unpleasant experiences. Brother Thomas clarifies: "Priests are allowed to be homosexual – as long as they do not live this homosexuality. It's a question of adherence to celibacy, just as it is for heterosexual clergy. A priest without a partner must therefore also be allowed to come out as homosexual without losing his ministry."

Brother Thomas hopes that the bishops' meeting in the Vatican will open up the ie, at least for Germany: "I hope that the synod will bring a certain freedom to the ie – that the regions of the world, for example, will be able to regulate how to deal with the ie themselves. It is clear that Africa has a very different attitude than Europe."

For Abrell, it's also about how to find a liturgical form for homosexual relationships – such as a blessing of same-sex couples. He says: "It is probably theologically untenable in the long run how the church ties the value of sexualized love to possible offspring."This could change in the next ten years.

Offer of homosexual pastoral care

In Cologne, there has been pastoral care for homosexuals since the 1990s. It began with a concern that "gay people have a confessor," says Andreas Heek, contact person since 2006.

This offer has been expanded in recent years. "It's about taking the religious needs of homosexual people and their life ies seriously," says the theologian, who seeks dialogue with groups of homosexuals. "We want to talk to homosexual people, not about them."

Under Pope Francis, the topic is generally talked about more openly. Abrell and Heek would like to get other dioceses on board – "even though it is clear that we will not succeed with all of them at the moment," Abrell regrets. In order to get the topic out of the back rooms, it is also conceivable for her to set up an official "federal conference" of the diocesan commissioners at the German Bishops' Conference. So far, there is only a kind of informal meeting of those responsible twice a year in Frankfurt.

"You won't find a sensible theologian in Germany who says that homosexuality is a disease," Abrell stresses. However, it is also clear that anyone dealing with the ie in the Catholic Church must expect resistance. When the Hildesheim diocesan commissioner for homosexual pastoral care spoke out publicly about his task a few years ago, he earned gloating in conservative Catholic Internet forums – and he received death threats.

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