“If a gay couple lives with faithfulness, can’t we say their relationship is blessed by God?”, the German Bishops’ head has asked.

– Against a Church that clings to “moral prohibition”

Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg spoke to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung April 12 about what he sees as the priorities of society and of the Church in the midst and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would be happy if this crisis led to greater solidarity not only in Germany, but throughout Europe”, Bätzing said, adding that he also hoped the outbreak helped the world to identify what’s really “important in life”.

In terms of the Church’s role during the coronavirus outbreak and beyond, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference – in the role since early last month – said his concern was to approach “the many who regard the Church’s moral teachings as a prohibitive morality”.

“I’d like to change that”, Bätzing underlined.

“Today, many people get the message that the Church clings to moral prohibition when it comes to sexuality”, the Limburg bishop denounced.

He went on to say that “it’s normal that young people want to be near the Church… but then they say: ‘if you’re wrong, I can’t do it'”, or even that the Church’s teachings are “outdated”.

The challenge is to “overcome this gap” but “without developing a completely new teaching”, the German prelate explained.

– “The existence of married priests doesn’t harm the Church”

Bätzing gave two concrete examples of how the Church can change its tone on sexual morality without deviating from doctrine, on its accompaniment of gay couples and its veto of married men from the priesthood.

On the first question – that of the Church’s concern for homosexuals – “for a long time in moral theology we’ve said that, if it’s true love that lives commitment and faithfulness, we must recognise it,” the bishop explained, stressing that “if people decide for themselves how they live, can’t we tell them that their relationship is blessed by God?”.

And on the second issue – that of compulsory priestly celibacy – Bätzing made reference to the final document of last October’s Amazon Synod to affirm that, at least in that part of the world, priestly service is more important than clerical continence, and to show himself in agreement with ordination of “proven” married men, or viri probati.

“I don’t believe that the existence of married priests harms the Church”, the bishop insisted.

– Church past of abuse cover-ups “very shameful”

Other points Bätzing touched on with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung included the clerical sexual abuse of minors, on which point he admitted that the Church has made “colossal mistakes”.

While recognising that “it’s not an excuse”, the bishop said that the Church of past concealments and cover-ups “couldn’t take advantage of the knowledge we have today”.

“From the current perspective, it’s no longer understandable that those affected haven’t been heard and that perpetrators have been protected”, Bätzing acknowledged.

The bishop recognised that he found it “very shameful”, in retrospect, that in the past both Church representatives and broader society believed that “sexual inclinations can be treated and abuse can be remedied without keeping the perspectives of victims in sight”.

More on Novena on gays’ fight for rights in the Church

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