Participants in the synodal way’s final assembly overwhelmingly endorsed a document Friday urging German bishops to permit same-sex blessings officially in their dioceses.
The five-page document, “Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other,” was passed by 176 votes for, 14 against, and 12 abstentions at its second reading, meaning it was formally adopted as a resolution of the synodal way.
The German bishops supported the text by 38 votes in favor, 9 against, and 11 abstentions.
The document — which contradicts a 2021 Vatican declaration that “the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex” — calls on bishops to “officially allow blessing ceremonies in their dioceses for couples who love each other but to whom sacramental marriage is not accessible or who do not see themselves at a point of entering into a sacramental marriage.”
“This also applies to same-sex couples on the basis of a re-evaluation of homosexuality as a norm variant of human sexuality,” it explains.
The vote was held in Frankfurt immediately after an address by Belgium’s Bishop Johan Bonny, who explained how the country’s Flemish bishops came to approve a text allowing for a ritual blessing of same-sex couples last September.
Bonny said that Pope Francis neither backed nor opposed the step, indicating that it was for local bishops to decide but underlining that they must remain united.
Shortly before the synodal assembly vote took place, several participants asked for a secret ballot on the text. As the majority of members rejected the request, votes were listed by name.
The official news website of the Catholic Church in Germany said that a handbook containing blessings for different kinds of couples would be developed following the vote.
It described the approved text as “a somewhat weakened form of the original text.”
Immediately after participants endorsed the same-sex blessings text, the synodal way’s co-presidents, Bishop Georg Bätzing and Irme Stetter-Karp, appealed to the German bishops not to reject upcoming papers.
Bätzing advised his fellow bishops to abstain rather than vote against texts, so that they could be passed by the assembly.
Stetter-Karp, president of the powerful lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), called on bishops to voice their objections to texts clearly during debates.
Appearing to refer to a series of last-minute amendments to texts requested by bishops, she said: “Dear bishops, how much longer do you intend to make use of our willingness to compromise? At times, some of us feel blackmailed into getting anything done at all.”
The same-sex blessings vote took place on the second day of the fifth and final synodal assembly in Frankfurt.
On March 9, the assembly’s first day, participants debated and endorsed two texts.
The document “Priestly existence today” was passed by 166 votes in favor, 21 against, and 14 abstentions, with the necessary two-thirds majority among bishops.
The 20-page document calls for “substantial systemic change” to priestly ministry in Germany.
“More profound changes are needed in order to enable the Catholic theory and tradition of the priestly ministry to be truly inculturated into contemporary society, and many of these changes have universal Church dimensions,” it says.
A second text, “Celibacy of priests – encouragement and opening,” was endorsed by 179 votes for, 10 against, and 16 abstentions, comfortably gaining a two-thirds majority among bishops.
The seven-page document asks Pope Francis to reexamine “the connection of the conferral of ordination with the commitment to celibacy” during the global synodal process.
The assembly’s first day ended with a contemporary dance performance at Frankfurt Cathedral depicting the abuse crisis. The event — entitled “verantwort:ich” (a play on the German words for “responsible” and “I”) — featured black-clad dancers in white masks straining against black ribbons.
The group Maria 1.0, which is critical of the synodal way, described the performance as “satanic.”
“With the Most Holy Sacrament present, they displayed this demonic ‘art performance’ in order to ‘take a stand against sexual abuse in the Church,’” the organization tweeted.
Speaking March 10, Beate Gilles, the general secretary of the German bishops’ conference, rejected the criticism.
“It is inconceivable that the performance ‘verantwort:ich’ was called satanic. Of course, we firmly reject this accusation. The combination of testimonies from those affected and the artistic setting was deeply moving,” she said.
The first text debated Friday, “Proclamation of the Gospel by lay people in word and Sacrament,” was passed by 169 votes for, 17 against, and 17 abstentions.
The six-page document says that “the German bishops should draw up a particular norm and obtain permission for this from the Holy See, according to which the homily can also be taken over in Eucharistic celebrations on Sundays and feast days by theologically and spiritually qualified faithful commissioned by the bishop.”
Two passages were reportedly deleted from the text before it was approved. One said that “possibilities for revitalizing lay confession in the context of spiritual guidance are also to be discussed,” and the other that “the importance of blessing and anointing the sick with regard to all pastoral carers who are active in attending the sick is also to be considered.”
On March 10, participants were due to consider a total of seven texts. In addition to the texts on same-sex blessings and lay preaching, synodal members were scheduled to vote on:
◾ A seven-page document, “Prevention of sexualized violence, intervention and dealing with perpetrators in the Catholic Church,” which makes 10 specific proposals for preventing clerical abuse and ensuring the uniform treatment of perpetrators. These include assigning each offender a “case manager.”
◾ A six-page text called “Measures against abuse of women in the Church” — the lone document having only its first reading — which presents 10 proposals to help the “large numbers of adults, and adult women in particular” who are “victims of spiritual or sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.” The measures include “establishing uniform rules of procedure in cases of sexual abuse of adults in pastoral care relationships, or in other dependent relationships (e.g. church employees) as well as clear, comprehensible recordkeeping, including a note in offenders’ personnel files.”
◾ A four-page text called “Joint consultation and decision-making,” which says that German diocesan bishops should establish “binding structures of participation and co-determination of the faithful in the diocese that he leads,” as well as “make decisions in binding interaction with the synodal bodies of the diocese.”
◾ A seven-page document entitled “Dealing with gender diversity,” which argues that within the Church, “intersex and transgender individuals face a heightened risk of becoming victims of sexualized and/or spiritualized violence, since the Church’s doctrine and Her law, given the definition of binarity under natural law, do not cater to their identities at all, assigning them highly-precarious, vulnerable positions at best, whilst offender strategies target such vulnerable people.” The text adds that “all ordained ministries and pastoral vocations in the Church should be open to the intersex and transgender baptized and confirmed who sense a calling for themselves.”
◾ A five-page document, “Women in sacramental ministry – Perspectives for the universal church dialogue,” which asks the German bishops to “advocate in Rome for the admission of women to the sacramental diaconate for all those particular Churches which desire this on the basis of their pastoral situation.” Regarding “women’s access to the whole sacramental ministry,” it asks that “the pastoral considerations and theological research from the context of the German local Church” be “introduced into the universal Church discourse at all levels of the international consultations.”
On March 11, the assembly’s last day, participants are expected to consider a single text, “The Synodal Path of the Catholic Church in Germany.”
It says: “We are convinced that the crisis of the Church, which is evident in the crimes of sexualized violence and their cover-up, is not the end of the Church, despite the heavy guilt.”
“Even in this deep crisis of faith there is the chance of conversion and a new beginning. The Catholic Church has lost credibility in many areas, which she hopes to regain. This can only happen through a change which, in addition to a changed attitude, also takes institutional modifications into consideration.”
The synodal way, which began formally in December 2019, is expected to end with a service at Frankfurt Cathedral, concluding with a procession of participants out of the cathedral.