God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées 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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

DOMA ruling and the Catholic Church

Much is written and spoken about the ruling of the US American Supreme Court from this week regarding the question of “Defense of Marriage Act” and a question related to a vote in California. With amazement I have seen the reactions as expected by people and supporters for or against the so-called “gay marriage”.  As somebody who does not like the phrase “gay marriage’ as it confuses terminology for most people, I was tempted to write an article why I think the church has lost its battle against equality on the state’s terrain defining marriage and it’s benefits. And why the church should stop fighting an already  lost war but concentrate on its portfolio and support functional families as much as she can. Then I came across the National Catholic Reporter and an OP of Michael Sean Winters named “Marriage, the church and the Supreme Court”.

It is a very honest analysis of the situation and consequences of the ruling and starts like this:

“The Supreme Court’s twin decisions in the battle over same-sex marriage on Wednesday were momentous, to be sure. But Wednesday was not “tragic,” as the statement from the USCCB stated. Nor were the court’s decisions victories in what Harvey Milk’s nephew unfortunately termed the “defining civil right issue of our time,” a claim that was downright offensive coming within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s far more objectionable decision to gut the Voting Rights Act. Turns out, old-style civil rights remains the defining civil rights issue of our time. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The state’s power in defining marriage is of central relevance to this case.” Indeed. And there is the rub for me. I do not understand why some people, including some bishops, are all worked up about same-sex marriage when the fact that the state, not the church, has the power to define civil marriage is well-established in American legal culture, and it was so long before anyone ever talked about gay marriage…”

For me the piece gives some insight in US American thinking, in US American Catholic thinking and it inspires to think deeper about the challenges behind the obvious battle of minds, one sees first. And so I do provide the link to the whole article and hope, that this inspires people new to think about the question, not along the usual “party lines” for or against it. There is nothing in this world only black or only white – but many shades of grey are involved. Let’s look at these and find ways not to go over board in fighting each other but finding common grounds like the happiness of people, like the love and commitment of people, the exclusivity of a relationship, which by the way when it comes to HIV and AIDS is of great importance for the containment of the virus.

Who is interested into church life in Germany has surely followed the publication of the Lutheran Church in our days also about marriage and it’s definition. As for a Luther the marriage is a non – sacramental issue, obviously the sister church in Germany comes to complete different assessments about values of this issue. The debate is on, and one has to find the common grounds but also the parts, where parties defining society differ in their approach to the topic of marriage.

The link: Marriage, the church and the Supreme Court – NCR

Enjoy reading!

Filed under: Catholic Church, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Discussions about family

Within the church and society there are major discussions how to define family and how to define marriage. As seen in France, violence seems to be the last resort for opponents of “same-sex” marriage and family life. Having myself problems with the word “gay marriage” on one hand but seeing the need for equality regarding the legal status of a same-sex couple in the legal framework of a country, I found in the recent Southern Cross two articles which in my understanding are underlining the need for further discussions on the subject without any hostility pro or contra the opposite position. With the permission of the editor of the Southern Cross, Guenther Simmermacher, here the two pieces, which can be seen also on the original website of the Southern Cross. All copyright is with the Southern Cross.

The revolution of family (link to Southern Cross original text)

May 1, 2013

In recent weeks several Church leaders have indicated that they might not oppose legislation that would extend civil union rights to same-sex couples, with the legal prerogatives that apply to traditional marriages, but without characterising such unions as marriages.
“In practice, the function of procreation has been diminished as the primary purpose of marriage, and not only in the West”
In early February Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that while the Church cannot consent to anything that treats other unions as equivalent to marriage between a man and a woman, “private law solutions” for protecting people’s rights could be permissible.This view has since been echoed by influential prelates such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Cardinal Rubén Salazar of Colombia (where same-sex legislation is pending) and Archbishop Piero Marini, liturgical master of ceremonies under Pope John Paul II. Under Pope Francis there seems to be an increasing openness to saying such things. Indeed, these statements might reflect the pope’s thinking: a senior official in Argentina’s bishops’ conference has confirmed that the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio favoured civil unions as an alternative to the legalisation of gay marriage in his country in 2010.

These comments will be welcome by Catholics and others who have supported the extension of full civil rights to homosexuals, but are opposed to changing the traditional definitions of marriage. However, an acknowledgment that the legalisation of same-sex civil unions is not irreconcilable with Catholic teaching and represents a tolerable alternative to the redefinition of the traditional family might be coming too late in stopping the inexorable move towards the legalisation of gay marriage in many countries. Worldwide, 13 countries have legalised same-sex marriage, including South Africa.

Questions may be raised whether the concept of same-sex civil unions is actually acceptable to those who advocate same-sex marriage, and whether the Church can keep intact its definition of marriage and family if it consents to same-sex civil unions. In a broader context, can the Church’s model of the traditional family retain currency in societies where the meaning of marriage and family has been thoroughly revolutionised over the past half century, with divorce, cohabitation and raising children outside marriage increasingly being seen as acceptable and normal? In practice, the function of procreation has been diminished as the primary purpose of marriage, and not only in the West. It is within this context that the notion of same-sex marriage has become acceptable to so many people throughout the world. These realities merit open and candid discussion as the Church seeks to formulate its response. It may also be productive to study the effects of the tone in which Church leaders state their opposition to gay marriage. For example, have the more strident forms of rhetoric—on either side—precluded reasonable dialogue and compromise?
It must be acknowledged that in its engagement against gay marriage, the Catholic Church has inflicted wounds, and sustained some itself. The Church has been accused of homophobia and hypocrisy. While opposition to same-sex marriage obviously is not intrinsically homophobic, some of the trenchant rhetoric has been interpreted as being hostile to homosexuals. Sometimes the lines between defending marriage and attacking homosexuals have appeared to be blurred. Some intemperate protests from Church leaders have been hurtful to the LGBT community, in contrast with the Catechism of the Catholic Church which demands that homosexuals be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (2358).

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who himself has offered ferocious opposition to gay marriage, acknowledged this failing last month when he said on US television that the Church must ensure that its “defence of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people”. He acknowledged, with admirable frankness, that the Church has not “been too good at that” and has failed to be consistently welcoming to gays and lesbians.

This failure to fully extend Christ’s embrace for all requires correction. The discussion about how to do this must begin now.

Learning from Germans (Link to Southern Cross)

By Mphuthumi Ntabeni on May 1, 2013

In April the Justice and Peace (J&P) Commission of the archdiocese of Cape Town was fortunate to have an information-sharing session with a visiting German Church delegation, led by Bishop Stephan Josef Ackermann of Trier. Bishop Ackermann is the chairman of J&P in Germany, and also the bishop assigned to deal with sexual abuse cases in Germany. Pilgrims pray at last year’s “Katholikentag”, the biennial German Catholic Church assembly which is organised by the national laity council. The German delegation was impressed that in South Africa we have J&P commissions in our parish commissions.  In Germany J&P exist only on a national level, under the Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken (ZdK), the official council of the German Catholic laity.

The ZdK was founded in 1848, was banished under Bismarck and again under the Nazi regime, but gained public respect mostly during the Cold War. Its secretary, Dr Stefan Vesper, was among the visiting delegation. The ZdK is a representative body of lay people. It unites diocesan councils, Catholic associations, institutions of lay apostolates, lay movements and communities. It serves also as a forum of opinions on political issues and the Church. From what I understood, the ZdK represents the concerns of Catholics in the public arena. It has a division that operates like our Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office in participating in public dialogue and in the houses of legislation in shaping public policy. It advises the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference on issues of social, political and religious life. Most of us showed deep interest in ZdK works, especially in the light of the media reports about some of our church leaders on topics such as sexual abuse and homosexuality. The ZdK seems to be a good forum for dialogue and a fountain of sharing ideas between bishops’ conference and general laity, so that the Church can truly speak with one voice. It was refreshing to notice that the bishops and ZdK actually speak with one voice, albeit from different perspectives, about the social teachings of the Church, and that no noticeable tension exists between hierarchy and the lay body.

For instance, I had a short discussion with Aloys Buch, a leading professor of moral theology and a deacon, about the gay marriage discussions that are currently a hot topic throughout Europe. Apparently the German Catholic Church makes a distinction between civil unions and marriage. Prof Buch argued that the widespread demand for gay marriage, as opposed to civil unions, is not about natural justice, but about the desire for a “biopolitical tyranny to destroy marriage and the family as the most basic and crucial mediating social institution”.  I later discovered that Bishop Ackermann holds similar views. So there is a clear distinction made between gay marriage, which the German Church—like the Church everywhere—opposes, and same-sex civil unions, which would give homosexual couples all the rights of matrimony, except to call that union a marriage. While the legislation of gay marriage is not acceptable to the Church, for the reasons Prof Buch outlined, the legal construct of civil unions of same-sex couples appears to be tolerable.

I was embarrassed to admit there is a certain squeamishness about talking about these things as openly in the Southern African Catholic Church

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

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