Watch Germany

I mentioned this in passing in yesterday's post, but it bears a closer look.  The Catholic Church is Germany is putting down its marker in preparation for the October Synod on the Family, along several dimensions.  First, this week, it approve changes to its internal labor guidelines, clarifying the status of people in non-canonically recognized relationships, either straight or gay.  A rough translation of the press release:

The renewed civil marriage after a civil divorce is to be seen as a serious loyalty violation [and thus cause to be fired] if that behavior on the specific circumstances is objectively likely to attract a significant nuisance in the service community or the professional sphere of activity and affect the credibility of the Church. The same applies to entering into a registered partnership [i.e. a recognized same-sex union].

These actions thus must be considered under the circumstances and therefore only in exceptional cases are relevant. This is the case when there are objective reasons to fear that a renewed civil marriage or a civil partnership interferes with cooperation in the service community. In a remarriage in such circumstances may, for example, result from the professional status of the employee, from the way how the divorced and remarried partners deal with the failure of the marriage or remarriage in the public or how the legal obligations from the first marriage are fulfilled. What is needed is an overall assessment.

This "case by case" consideration of the circumstances surrounding a remarriage  or same-sex union is contrasted with, for example, "xenophobia," which is always cause for termination. Only if there is some other problem, such as some sort of workplace sexual drama, will the parties be fired.   In other words, it is a full repudiation of the view, prevalent in the U.S. church, that entering into a same sex marriage is cause in and of itself to be fired from a Catholic institution.

That's significant, particularly in light of the release of the German bishops' pre-Synod report.  First off, they took the time to have it translated into, and disseminated in, English.  Why do that, unless you want to ensure that the English-speaking media in North American (and folks like me) pick it up and run with it?  Hard to see this as not part of some coordinated effort to rally support before the Synod.

Also, there is a very interesting phrasing at the end of the Introduction.  Ostensibly, this is a report of the responses of German lay Catholics to the various survey question the Vatican disseminated.  But the German bishops say:

After having consulted the People of God, the German Bishops’ Conference is pleased to
present its answers on the pages below, which are implicitly intended to set the thematic

The German Bishops' Conference is pleased to present its answers, not their answers.  In other words "this is what the people say, and we are agree and incorporate the people's thoughts into our own response."  Lest one thinks that I am reading into the text, that's precisely how the Catholic News Agency interpreted it as well.  German bishops could have just reported what the people were saying without comment, creating a sort of "god cop, bad cop" routine.  They decided instead to do the opposite.

There are other broadsides in this document.  I was struck by this part on Page 9:

In particular, pastoral care must ensure that open, unprejudiced and non-moralising communication is also engaged in towards those who regard themselves as Christians and Catholics but who do not or cannot live in full congruency with the teaching of the Church in questions that are related to marriage and the family. It is a matter of permitting, in love and with sympathy, each individual to take their personal path (also of seeking God) and of ensuring that this process is accompanied by
giving advice, but is not patronising. This manner of approaching people borne by the positive
message of the Gospel is desired and expected from the pastoral care of their Church by Catholics in the German bishoprics, as is shown with considerable unanimity in the feedback, in some cases vehemently. It is hoped to see, particularly from representatives of the Church, an attitude which places the inviting, attentive aspect of communication with people clearly above that of defining clear boundaries. 

In other words, stop shutting people out, and stop conditioning support on meeting pre-conditions in terms of family structure and behavior.  It goes on:

In this tension, it is necessary to make the doctrine of the Church, in the sense of a responsible formation of conscience, repeatedly newly known but also comprehensible. The Magisterium is faced here by the challenge of repeatedly verifying, honestly and self-critically, whether the teaching really can be imparted to people in all aspects and differentiations. As was already the case with the questionnaire in the run-up to the Extraordinary Synod of 2014, the feedback from the dioceses once more points clearly here to the fact that, in particular, a number of sexual ethical aspects of the Church’s teaching are neither understood nor any longer accepted. On the other hand, it is stressed at the same time that central aspects of the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family remain highly significant. Explicit mention is made here of the broad acceptance of monogamy among the population, of the high level of appreciation of marriage as a community of love, of the considerable recognition of faithfulness as a value in the relationship and of the connection between marriage and desired fertility. 

In other words "it's not that the Church has nothing to say about marriage; we're not looking to become swingers.  It's that we think some of the stuff you are saying about birth control and gay folks is crazy.  And we want you to go back to the drawing board and think hard about whether you really need to insist on the crazy stuff."

Lest one misses the point:

The question on pastoral care for civilly divorced and remarried Catholics was answered by everyone, and in most cases also in a very detailed manner. It is a concern for many faithful, far beyond the group of those whose marriages have failed. There can be no doubt that this remains a pivotal issue for the credibility of the Church. There is a very high expectation among the faithful that the Synod of Bishops will open up new paths for pastoral care in this respect.

"We are not hoping that changes will be made--we are expecting you guys to make changes."

As a matter of principle, the faithful expect everyone to be accepted both in the Church and in society, regardless of their sexual orientation, and that an atmosphere of appreciation towards all be promoted in the parishes. Almost all responses concur with the view that is put forward in the human sciences (medicine, psychology), namely that sexual orientation is a disposition that is not selected by the individual and that it is unchangeable. It is therefore confusing for the questionnaire to speak of “homosexual tendencies”, and this is considered to be discriminatory. . . .  Pastoral care that accepts homosexuals requires a further development of the Church’s sexual morals which incorporates recent findings from the humanities, as well as from anthropological, exegetic and moral theology.

"Again, this is not really a request.  The status quo is unacceptable, and you need to fix it."

Criticism was voiced that the discussion of the situation faced by people with a homosexual orientation is discontinued as soon as it is practiced in a partnership, and also that there is no discussion of contraception methods – unlike in the questionnaire prior to the Extraordinary Synod –, this being named as one of the main causes of the divide between the Church’s teachings.

"Yeah, get on that, too."

It is difficult to imagine a clearer statement of where the German bishops are coming from going into the Synod.  They are not going to advocate for changes, they are going to insist on changes.  And if they don't get it?  Here's Cardinal Marx, part of Pope Francis's Council of Eight and Archbishop of Munich.

"We cannot wait for a synod to tell us how we have to shape pastoral care for marriage and family here," said Marx, who will be one of three German church delegates at the synod.

"We are not a branch of Rome. Each bishops' conference is responsible for pastoral care in its cultural context and must preach the Gospel in its own original way," he said.

'Them's fighting words.  It sounds like Cardinal Marx, and presumably the other German bishops, plan to implement these changes unilaterally, regardless of what the Synod decides.  Would that lead to a split?  It's certainly possible.

The message here, in all of this, is that one should keep and eye on the Germans.  They seem committed to moving the Catholic Church in the direction of a more progressive view of the culture war issues, especially divorce and LGBT issues.


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