Cardinal Reinhard Marx has said gay couples can receive a blessing in the Church, “in the sense of pastoral care”, even if that blessing can’t look like or be seen to recognise a marriage ceremony.

Driving the news

“The sacrament of marriage is based on the faithful relationship between man and woman, which is open to children”, Marx, German Bishops’ Conference President made clear talking to Stern December 23.

But having explained that traditional marriage doctrine, the cardinal also insisted that gays must be welcome in the Church.

If same-sex couples have been faithful for years, the Church can’t “negatively bracket that out” and say their relationships aren’t worth anything, Marx argued.

“I get criticism for this from some sides”, admitted Marx, of his reputation for opening up the Church to better pastoral attention to LGBT people.

“Some say: It goes too far. Others: It doesn’t go far enough”, the cardinal lamented.

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On the subject of the ordination of women, Marx was clear: since the veto of John Paul in 1994, “the door is closed”, the cardinal revealed Pope Francis told him.

Women priests are an issue the Catholic women’s reform movement Maria 2.0 also referred to December 23, looking back on a busy year of feminist Church strikes and protests that brought fresh air and “pressure to change” into Catholic circles, in the words of spokeswoman Andrea Voss-Frick.

On women’s involvement in the Church “it’s clear to everyone that the system as it is now cannot be maintained”, Voss-Frick warned.

On the subject of evangelisation, Marx explained that even outside the Church people can find their way to God.

“There are a lot of people outside the Church: they can’t all be lost”, the cardinal explained, echoing Pope Benedict’s famous reply to the question “How many ways are there to God?” – “As many as there are people”.

Why it matters

Marx’s openness contrasted with Cologne Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s moderation as the latter cardinal revealed that in an interview with Bild also December 23.

“Every Christian has to question himself every day and orientate himself towards God and Jesus. This also applies to reforms of the Church”, Woelki said.

“Faith is the crucial thing, not who preaches it, whether it is a man or a woman, whether old or new songs are sun or the priest is married”, the Cologne cardinal insisted.

Woelki added that “I am deeply convinced that tinkering with the outward appearance of the church no longer attracts people”.

“I cannot vote on whether Jesus became human at Christmas or not”, Woelki maintained, in that way downplaying the importance of democracy in the Church.

“Of course you have to hear what Christians say, not just those in lay organizations. But their view must also stand before the Gospel, the teachings and the decisions of the Church”.

For the record

Woelki explained that he was open to a discussion of the possible abolition of compulsory priestly celibacy – a topic of the German Church’s ‘synodal path’ reform process – but bearing in mind that such a change in Church discipline “is not decided in the German-speaking branch of the Catholic Church, but in the world Church as a whole”.

The faith has been the same for 2,000 years, Woelki recalled, and for that reason alone the discipline can’t be changed in the blink of an eye.

“Christ has the last word”, Woelki concluded on the questions of reform, before warning: “but in case of doubt, that last word is the Pope’s”.

Next on Novena:

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

Vatican official rushes to clear up “distorted” readings of document on divorce, homosexuality… but ambiguity persists

German Catholic women draw “red lines” for ‘synodal path’: full equality in Church leadership and call to Rome for ordination

German laity push bishops for blessings for gay couples

Basel diocese backs same-sex marriage, blessings

Austrian priest celebrates “liturgy of thanksgiving” for lesbian civil marriage

Retired Münster bishop: “Church can bless same-sex partnerships”