A German bishop and a vicar general have questioned the wisdom of a Vatican ‘clarification’ of the Pope’s support for same-gender civil unions.

– Pope’s attitude “worthy of imitation”: Bishop of Dresden-Meissen

Bishop of Dresden-Meissen Heinrich Timmerevers analysed with German Catholic news agency KNA November 5 Pope Francis’ remarks in the new documentary Francesco, in which the pontiff calls for pastoral support and legal recognition for same-gender couples.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family… They’re children of God and have a right to a family… Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it [sexual orientation]… What we have to create is a civil union law… That way [gay couples] are legally covered”, the Pope says in the new film.

Reflecting on those quotes, Timmerevers – who in September became the first German bishop to openly call for Church blessings for gay couples – said Francis wants to make sure Catholics “see all people first and foremost as loved and accepted by God”.

“I still consider it imperative to promise this to people in a blessing”, the bishop added.

Timmerevers said that the Pope’s attitude towards gay people in the new documentary is “something essential and profoundly worthy of imitation”.

“The Holy Father does not think in abstract terms or in terms of rules and regulations, but starts from the personhood and dignity of the individual. We are not talking about anonymous or… sinful groups, but always about very concrete people”, the bishop explained.

Timmerevers said that the Pope’s welcoming attitude to homosexuals is fully in line with Amoris laetitia, the 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family in which Francis encouraged Church understanding and accompaniment of different kinds of relationships.

– “What is the intention behind” Vatican explicatory note?

After Francesco premiered in Rome October 21, the Pope’s support for same-gender civil unions in the documentary quickly became a talking point in the Church and wider world, with some voices strongly in favour and some strongly against.

In the midst of the debate, the Vatican Secretary of State stepped in October 30 and sent to nunciatures around the world a letter for distribution among bishops with the aim of encouraging, in its words, “a proper understanding of the words of the Holy Father”.

Among other things, that Secretary of State letter said that the Pope’s words in the documentary had been edited without “due contextualisation”, and in proper context in actual fact were in full continuity with Amoris laetitia.

On same-gender civil unions and the acceptance of homosexuality more generally, “Pope Francis… referred to particular arrangements of the State [and] certainly not to the doctrine of the Church, which has been reaffirmed many times over the years”, the Secretary of State explained.

But recalling the Pope’s message of radical welcome, Bishop Timmerevers asked: “Does this really need a clarification from the Secretariat of State with quotations from the post-synodal document [Amoris laetitia]? What is the intention behind it?”

Timmerevers said that he could “welcome” the Vatican’s explanations only if they were meant not to water down the Pope’s remarks but instead “to help us, through the papal document Amoris laetitia, to better perceive the complex reality of today’s families and to better understand God’s Spirit, which also speaks in the events of history”.

– Secretary of State intervention in debate “throws a very bad light on the Vatican and damages the Pope”: Essen vicar general

Along with Bishop Timmerevers, another leader in the German Church has also voiced his scepticism of the course of action the Vatican has taken in deciding to explain the Pope’s words on civil unions.

Klaus Pfeffer – the vicar general or second-in-charge of the Essen diocese, directly under the bishop there – told the dpa news agency also November 5 that the Secretariat of State intervention amounted to “a disastrous way of communicating” on the part of the Vatican.

“The Pope expresses himself in a film which was apparently authorised by the Vatican. This then triggers corresponding reactions in the public, and the Vatican feels called upon to interpret the Pope’s statements, i.e. to tone them down”, Pfeffer denounced.

“This throws a very bad light on the Vatican and damages the Pope”, the Essen vicar general continued.

“It would have been much better to leave the statements as they were. After all, the Pope had sent an important signal of charity. Why does that have to be put into perspective now? Once again, homosexual people are being hurt”.

Pfeffer concluded by recalling that the Church has an inalienable global responsibility in the matter of LGBT+ rights.

“In many countries, people with homosexual orientation are obliged to fear for their lives. So I think it is necessary to send a clear signal of acceptance”, he explained.

On Novena, all the latest on the Church debate over civil unions:

Analysis: In supporting same-gender civil unions, Pope Francis is encouraging a broader Catholic view of family

Vatican clarifies Pope’s same-gender civil unions remarks, insists they do not change Church doctrine (full text)

Dublin archbishop welcomes Pope’s comments on civil unions, says Francis “clearing the air for further discussion” on LGBT rights

Theologian says Church can no longer refuse to bless same-gender relationships after Pope’s backing of civil unions


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