God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

Gloves are off?

The clock is ticking and the preparations for the synod of the bishops to discuss family and marriage matters are in full swing. Some churches publish their findings on the questionnaire, others treat it as a sort of highly secretly exercise. Some parts of the hierarchy asked frankly those called the laity, others compiled answers without elaborating on the ways how they did it. In Germany it seems that the topic is highly contested. Cardinal Marx from Munich made it very clear that in the question of divorced and remarried couples, the church must be able to consider all their options. This was in answer to soon-top-be Cardinal Mueller in Rome, who insisted already upfront that nothing can be changed at all. Only to be reprimanded by an South American Cleric in the same rank that there is more to it than just dogmatic insistence. The Diocese of Freiburg published a guideline for the possibility in some instances for a blessing of a second marriage and communion for those who are divorced and remarried. Which obviously drew flag from Mueller in Rome again, who insisted that people living in a second marriage are living in sin and therefore are excluded from Holy Communion.
Such debates are not new – I remember that  then Bishop of Rottenburg – Stuttgart and now Cardinal Kasper, then Bishop and now Cardinal Karl Lehmann from Mainz as well as Archbishop Oscar Saier from Freiburg published a letter to the faithful on the 10th of July 1993 declaring that in case of a remarried divorce, the priest must find out in a talk “whether that, what is right in general, also applies for the situation of the couple concerned”. It’s the simple question of oikonomia, one of the acknowledged traditions of the Orthodox church through all ages till today which is in principle also recognized in the Roman-Catholic Church, but not for marriage cases. Oikonomia means that there is a law (like the marriage is for ever) but it acknowledges that humans can fail and for the greater good of the people involved and because of the unconditional love of God to be experienced through the church, there is a solution to start anew without denying the general rule.  The Orthodox church requires a time of penance and acknowledgement of failure before allowing the new marriage. And I think it’s right so: Couples tend to think that love never ends when they get married and it is for most horrible to experience failure and the ceasing of love. There is need for a time of reflection, soul-searching before restarting life again. So saying that there is only the Roman Catholic alternative of being faithful to the letter of the law is cheating the people of alternatives which have proven their value through 2000 years without compromising faith. In 1993 the reaction of then head of the department for doctrine, Cardinal Ratzinger was sharp and direct: He found the Bishops being unfaithful and in opposition to the teaching of the church and that was end of the story. Thanks God times have changed and at least it is allowed in church now to think again – at least in most parts of it.

Bishop Ackermann from Trier, one of the younger bishops in Germany made his standpoint quite clear in a series of interviews. After the German Bishops Conference published parts of the finding of the laity for the synod, the Bishop was asked about sex before marriage, contraception, same-sex marriage and the question of divorce and remarriage. He stated that not every sexual act before marriage can be considered a great sin, the question of distinguishing between “artificial contraception” and ‘natural contraception” is in his opinion artificial itself. Even on the question of same-sex partnerships he clearly stated that there is no way of conducting a marriage as understood by the church, but he admitted that he would not refuse to  bless a same-sex couple, if they would come up for a blessing in one of the services dedicated to couples and their love ending with a personalized blessing for each couple. I guess it is a sensitive answer, it shows that there is acknowledgement of love between to people independent from their sexual orientation, but it makes at the same time clear, that there is a difference how church and theology defines marriage and the state defines it. Same sex partnerships are not a marriage in a sacramental way as understood by the church – I often think if the church would put all the energy it takes to fight the state on same-sex partnerships instead would put into supporting marriage and family life in parishes it would surely look better on this side.  Church and state are different entities with different definitions of certain aspects of life which indeed can be lived next to each other without fighting. I read once a quote from Cardinal Napier which stated that civil partnerships have nothing to do with the church. Right so, if that is the case don’t fight them. But I also have to admit that I still don’t like the word “same-sex marriage” – same rights yes, but create another word, less burdened with a long tradition leading, yes asking for debates dividing people unnecessarily.

Following the internet debates on all those topics it seems that the gloves are off and all parties concerned are anxious to get their message through. It shows how divided the church is on that topic and that in the last 30 years the rift was covered up through tough measures against anybody even asking the right questions. Academic theologians were to scared to research freely as they had to fear not to get into teaching with the blessing of the official church. Doctrine was everything – but times have changed and as a bishop in South Africa put it: “We are allowed to think again and to debate questions without fear”. This is indeed a step in the right direction and I only hope that all this debate ends up not with winners and losers but with the unconditional love of God being personalized in those leading the church so that everybody can see and experience that faith is an assistance to life and not a constant headache.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. How do you know Bishop Ackermann said these things? I read in conservative Catholic blogs how reprehensible they are, and they seem so far from what bishops normally say that I would have thought they would be published in major news sources. I would like clear fact-checking. Are the comments a hoax?

HIV, AIDS and HOPE – thoughts of a Catholic priest

Being a Roman - Catholic priest and working in the fields of HIV and AIDS in Africa is often a challenge. Living in Africa has also its challenges. On the other hand I feel very much blessed having all the three. So you will find stories and reflections about my work, about the church, South Africa and Africa and essential information and developments in the field of HIV and AIDS. And in between personal stories and thoughts. You are most welcome to leave a comment or to get in touch with me - blogs - "thinking loud" so to speak is a ways of communication and exchange of ideas.

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