It almost got lost in the excitement of democracy and reform in the Church at the first German synodal assembly, but two bishops at the assembly called there for “widening, opening and change” on Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.

Driving the news

According to the synodal assembly live blog run by, the German Bishops’ news service, during a speech at the event Archbishop of Hamburg Stefan Hesse “distanced himself from the current Church doctrine on homosexuality and called for new ways”.

Hesse said that the language of the Catechism on homosexuality looks down on gay people, instead of meeting them at eye level, with its description of homosexual acts and inclinations as “intrinsically… [and] objectively disordered” (CCC 2357-2358).

The archbishop lamented the fact that the Catechism states that “homosexual persons are called to chastity” (CCC 2359), when he said he knew from pastoral experience that there are many same-sex couples who live values ​​such as respect and responsibility in their relationships.

Hesse insisted that the Church should change its doctrine on homosexuality to do justice to gays: a call that said was met in the synodal assembly with resounding applause.

Go deeper

The other bishop to speak out in favour of more justice for gay people on the part of the Church was Georg Bätzing of the Limburg diocese, who lamented what called the “large gap” between sexual relationships as they are actually lived and Church teaching on the subject.

The Church’s sexual is perceived more as a series of prohibitions than as a guide to living, Bätzing explained, according to the German Bishops’ website.

“We want to bridge this gap without a break with [Church] teaching, but by widening, opening and changing this teaching”, said Bätzing.

Why it matters

At the synodal assembly, Bätzing presented a working document on sexual morality that has been drawn up to aid the two-year German Church reform process in its look at possible changes to Catholic teaching on sex, authority and power in the Church, the priestly way of life and the place of women.

That synodal path working document on Catholic sexual morality acknowledges that “homosexual acts also realize positive meaningful values, insofar as they are an expression of friendship, reliability, loyalty and support in life”, all the while expressing its dissent from traditional Church teaching that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil.

At the synodal assembly, Archbishop Hesse was elected as a member of the forum on women’s place in the Church, while Bätzing will continue in the working group on sexual morality.

For the record

Last year, Archbishop Hesse – along with Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück – called the Church to more “credibility” when dealing with the “life realities” of gay and lesbian people.

The prelates did so in a preface to a book which gathered together papers presented at a private 2018 conference on pastoral perspectives for the Catholic LGBTQ+ community and possible forms for future liturgical blessings of same-sex couples.

“There are many engaged Catholics, among them not least parents, who wish for a more open way of dealing with homosexuals than what they currently experience in the Church”, Hesse and Bode acknowledged in their critique of the current doctrine on homosexuality.

Proposing a way forward of mutual respect between the Church and LGBTQ+ people, the two bishops celebrated that “when homosexual men and lesbian women confess themselves to be believing Christians – in spite of the experiences of rejection – and ask for pastoral care on their path of life, then this is very impressive and challenges us to develop perspectives together”.

Next on Novena:

‘No’ to clericalism, ‘yes’ to co-responsibility: the keys to the first assembly on the German synodal path

“Synodal path” begins in Germany: youth, laity dream of Church “democratisation”

Austrian cardinal says Last Judgment about having fed hungry and clothed naked, not sexual orientation

Osnabrück bishop pushes for progress in Church on women, gay blessings, celibacy

German ‘conversion therapy’ victim: “It is essential that the Churches speak out loudly that homosexuality is not a disease”

Cardinal Marx backs “pastoral” blessings for gay couples

German theologian blasts “right-wing” Catholics for spreading myth homosexuality linked to child abuse

German Bishops insist homosexuality “normal”, sex after divorce and remarriage not a “serious sin”

German laity push bishops for blessings for gay couples


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.