On same-sex blessings, new Austrian Bishops' chair started process but did not approve book in favour - spokesperson

On same-sex blessings, new Austrian Bishops’ chair started process but did not approve book in favour: spokesperson

The new Austrian Bishops’ chair started a process to look into same-sex blessings but did not commission or approve a book in favour of the same, his spokesperson has claimed.

– Asked Bishops’ commission “to discuss liturgical offers” for gays, but term as chair ended in 2018

In a June 18 email seen by the CNA, a spokesperson for Archbishop of Salzburg Franz Lackner, who took over last week as the new president of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, confirmed that Lackner initiated a study project on the possibility of the Church conferring official blessings on gay couples during his term as chairman of the Austrian Bishops’ liturgical commission (LKÖ).

More specifically, as chairman Lackner “asked the LKÖ to discuss the topic of liturgical offers for people in homosexual relationships in general”, the archbishop’s spokesperson explained.

That same spokesperson recalled that Lackner’s request to the commission “led to a study day in February 2016 and the LKÖ agreed that the results of this study day should be compiled and that the topic should be further monitored”.

Since November 2018, however, Lackner has no longer been the chairman of the LKÖ, his place having been taken by Bishop Anton Leichtfried of the diocese of St. Polten.

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– Book argues Church should “recognise… sacramental character” of gay unions

Conservative outlet CNA reached out to Archbishop Lackner to understand his role in a book published in April of this year, entitled The Benediction of Same-Sex Partnerships, which argues that the Church should “show an appreciation” for gay couples – who “symbolically express the love of God for man” – and through an official blessing “recognise” the “sacramental character” of their partnerships.

In the new book’s foreword, editor Father Ewald Volgger – the director of the Institute for Liturgical Studies and Sacramental Theology at the Catholic Private University of Linz – gives his own version of Lackner’s involvement in the project.

“In the Liturgical Commission for Austria (LKÖ) on February 27th 2015 in Salzburg, the then chairman, Archbishop Franz Lackner, asked for an exchange on the question of blessings of homosexual couples”, Volgger affirmed.

“The occasion was a blessing ceremony in Switzerland, which had great media attention. In the discussion it became clear that  a moral theological clarification is needed, as well as a change in the Magisterium on this point to allow for an official liturgy for same-sex couples”.

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The blessing in Switzerland to which Volgger referred took place in a Swiss Evangelical Reformed church, and the pastor who performed the ceremony, Sibylle Forrer, explained that the blessings she confers are “theologically… no different from a wedding ceremony”.

In an April interview to mark the book’s publication, Volgger explained again that at least the initial impulse for the volume on same-sex blessings came “because the Austrian liturgical commission, chaired by Archbishop Lackner of Salzburg, asked us to deal with this question”.

However, it is also true that under new chairman Bishop Leichtfried the LKÖ has undertaken further research on the topic – including a 2019 symposium – which has also fed into the new book.

– Despite distancing, questions remain

In the wake of Lackner’s appointment as new Austrian Bishops’ head, Novena reported June 17 that the Archbishop of Salzburg had “commissioned” the book on same-sex blessings, and noted that the open attitude towards gay couples reflected in the contents of the volume would not be out of place in a prelate who once admitted that the celibacy gay Catholics are called to by the Church “is not the ideal type of sexuality”.

Other Catholics news outlets – including The Tablet, New Ways Ministry and EWTN – also saw Lackner’s hand behind the book.

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CNA asked the Salzburg archdiocese to clarify why Lackner is only just now in June denying involvement in a book that came out in April, and also whether the episcopal conference the archbishop now heads approves as a body of the volume.

The outlet has not yet, however, received a response to those queries.

More stories on Novena on the Austrian Church:

New Austrian Bishops’ head open to rethink of doctrine on homosexuality, commissioned book on same-sex blessings

Austrian priest theologian Ewald Volgger pushes for sacramental blessings for same-sex couples

Theologian Ewald Volgger says “considerable number” of Austrian bishops open to same-sex blessings

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.