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German bishop asks pastors to bless same-sex couples

A German bishop issued a letter Thursday asking pastors in his diocese to bless same-sex couples.

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Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann said in the Nov. 2 letter to priests, deacons, and lay pastoral workers that the blessings — which he also extended to remarried couples — could take place in churches in the Diocese of Speyer.

“The ceremony must differ from a church wedding ceremony in terms of words and signs and should explicitly reinforce the love, commitment, and mutual responsibility in the couple’s relationship as an act of blessing,” he wrote in the 1,000-word letter.

Local Catholic media said that Wiesemann was the first German bishop to make such an appeal, though other prelates have stressed previously that pastors will face no sanctions for blessing same-sex and remarried couples in their dioceses.

Wiesemann, who has led the diocese in southwest Germany since 2008, said he was issuing the invitation after 93% of participants in the country’s controversial “synodal way” endorsed a document calling for “blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other.”

The text called for the creation of a “handout” for use in German dioceses that included “suggested forms for blessing celebrations for various couple situations (remarried couples, same-sex couples, couples after civil marriage).”

Wiesemann wrote: “Both with regard to believers whose marriages have broken down and who have remarried, and especially with regard to same-sex oriented people, it is urgently time — especially against the background of a long history of deep hurt — for a different perspective to find a pastoral attitude inspired by the Gospel, as many of you have been practicing for a long time.”

“That’s why I campaigned for a reassessment of homosexuality in Church teaching in the synodal way and also voted for the possibility of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. I stand by that. I hope that on the path of the global synod this pressing question of our time can also experience positive development.”

A report issued Oct. 28 at the end of the synod on synodality’s first session did not mention same-sex blessings or even the acronym “LGBT.”

But Pope Francis addressed the topic of blessings in a reply to five dubia, or doubts, posed by cardinals ahead of the assembly in Rome. 

The pope said it was a matter of pastoral prudence to “properly discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more people, that do not convey a misconception of marriage.” 

“Decisions that may be part of pastoral prudence in certain circumstances need not be transformed into a norm,” he wrote. “In other words, it is not appropriate for a diocese, a conference of bishops, or any other ecclesial structure to authorize constantly and officially procedures or rules for every type of affair.” 

Germany is not the only country where bishops have encouraged same-sex blessings. The Flemish bishops in neighboring Belgium authorized a text allowing for a ritual blessing of same-sex couples in September 2022.

Although the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith said in 2021 that the Church does not have the power to offer liturgical blessings for same-sex unions, the Vatican has not responded publicly to the Flemish bishops’ step.

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In his letter, Bishop Wiesemann said: “Nobody is forced to hold such blessings, but my request also means that no one who carries out such blessings has to fear sanctions.” 

“On the contrary, it is important to me that we give these believers a clear sign of God’s closeness in the community of the Church. It may be that the domestic setting (possibly also with the blessing of the shared apartment) is more suitable for receiving a blessing. A blessing ceremony can also take place in the church or at another suitable location.”

The 63-year-old bishop said that until the German bishops’ conference completed the handout, pastors should refer to a 52-page publication called “The celebration of blessings for couples,” produced by the AFK, an association for family education and pastoral care. 

More than half a million Catholics formally left the Church in Germany in 2022, the highest annual figure on record.

According to the German bishops’ conference, the Diocese of Speyer serves 465,776 Catholics, 19,000 of whom (4.1%) are Massgoers. 

The diocese recorded 3,047 baptisms in 2022, 3,384 first Holy Communions, 2,134 confirmations, 730 weddings, and 6,324 funerals. It also saw 11,859 people leave the Church, while 34 joined and 112 formally returned.

Wiesemann promised to respect the consciences of pastors who opposed the blessings. But he asked them to refer couples to the diocesan office, which he said would put them in touch with another pastor in their region.

He asked pastors willing to offer blessings outside their pastoral care areas to contact the office so that a list can be created and distributed. 

“Many couples’ prayers for blessing reveal a deep longing to be able to live their lives together under the protection and guidance of God,” he wrote. 

“What is evident here is a longing for God that goes beyond boundaries that have been drawn so far. This is to be taken seriously and points to the biblical promise of God's presence wherever there is goodness and love.”

He added: “With the possibility of blessing celebrations, we want to do justice to both God’s mercy and the situation of people.” 

“Let us take this path together and remain in dialogue.”

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