There was a time that he would have been deposed and excommunicated for this, but no more.
By Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D.
German Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen has defied the Vatican’s veto on blessings for homosexual unions, saying he will allow his priests to bless same-sex couples, Runrunes reported Wednesday.
Priests who bless gay couples in an upcoming LGBT-sponsored event called “Blessings for the unions of people who love each other” will not be sanctioned, Bishop Overbeck said.
“I am not going to do that with the priests,” said the German Prelate, adding that he will not “suspend” a priest or apply any other ecclesiastical punishments for blessing a same-sex couple.
“I — and other bishops — have said that clearly: ‘I won’t do that,’” he said.
Among all the German bishops there is no one who doesn’t say: “We accept everyone,” Overbeck stated in an interview earlier this month, from which Runrunes drew elements of its story. “But there are also very different forms of acceptance and rejection of the way in which homosexual people can live together.”
The bishop said he has “come a long way over the last twelve years” and today would say that “there is also a lot of blessing on those who live together as couples — with faithfulness and reliable connections.”
In mid-March, the Vatican doctrinal office (CDF) issued a statement declaring that the Church has no authority to bless homosexual unions, noting that God Himself “does not and cannot bless sin.”
Blessings require both “the right intention of those who participate” and “that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation,” stated the text, with the express approval of Pope Francis.
“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage,” it read, “as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”
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,” it stated, citing Pope Francis.
Blessing an illicit sexual union would be “to approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God,” it said.
The Vatican declaration generated significant blowback, especially in the German-speaking world where blessings of same-sex unions have become quite common.
Shortly after the publication of the CDF text, over 200 German-speaking Catholic theologians issued a statement rejecting the Vatican declaration, asserting it “is characterized by a paternalistic gesture of superiority and discriminates against homosexual people and their lifestyle.”
The theologians said the Vatican document was lacking “theological depth, interpretive understanding, and argumentative rigor.” By ignoring relevant “scientific findings,” they declared, “the Magisterium undermines its own authority.”
Similarly, Bishop Hermann Glettler of Innsbruck, Austria, apologized to those who might feel offended by the Vatican declaration, saying it severely restricts the scope of pastoral care for gay people.
“You can never bless enough,” Bishop Glettler said, “because blessing means saying something good to someone and discovering that God has already written himself into people’s lives.”
Glettler, who heads up the office for marriage and family of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, stated that his position, “and that of many bishops and also many pastors, is that people who expressly ask for a blessing and want to go this way with the church should not be denied their blessing.”
Others who have expressed their dissent from the CDF statement were Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Bishop Franz Josef Bode, Bishop Georg Bätzing, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf, Bishop Helmut Dieser and Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers.
A number of Catholic clergy are expected to attend the LGBT event on May 10, which has been publicized with the slogan “We do not deny a blessing.”
The event is sponsored by Father Bernd Mönkebüscher, a parish priest of the town of Hamm, who came out as gay in 2019.
A number of German bishops have taken the opposite approach, receiving the Vatican’s statement as a definitive answer to the issue of blessings for same-sex couples and revealing a rift within the conference.
Among these are Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, Archbishop of Cologne; Freiburg Bishop Stephan Burger; Erfurt Bishop Ulrich Neymeyer; Eichstätt Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke; Görlitz Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt; Passau Bishop Stefan Oster; and Regensburg Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer.