Birgit Mock, a vice president of the ZdK, on July 31, 2023, attacked Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne for admonishing a priest his statements against blessing same-sex unions. / Synodaler Weg / Maximilian von Lachner

CNA Newsroom, Aug 1, 2023 / 09:15 am (CNA).

A German cardinal was publicly criticized by the powerful Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) on Monday for formally warning a priest over same-sex blessings in the Archdiocese of Cologne.

Birgit Mock, a vice president of the ZdK, attacked Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne for admonishing Father Herbert Ullmann, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.  

The priest had conducted a “blessing service for all loving couples,” reported the newspaper Rheinische Post, which also published a photo of the liturgical ceremony, including altar servers before a rainbow flag on the altar steps.

In an interview with Domradio, ZdK’s Mock called the warning “beyond incomprehensible” and pointed to a resolution of the German Synodal Way that says “all people are equal before God and human dignity includes gender identity and sexual orientation.”

Mock, who headed the Synodal Way’s working group on sexuality, is a staunch supporter of German public defiance of the Vatican on blessing same-sex unions.

In a recent attempt to bridge the deep concerns and growing divide, German bishops and representatives of the Roman Curia met at the Vatican on July 26 to continue discussions on “the theological and disciplinary issues that have emerged in particular in the ‘Synodal Way.’”

According to a joint statement from the Vatican and the German Bishops’ Conference, the meeting took place in a “positive and constructive climate” and will be followed by further meetings.

The German delegation included Bishops Georg Bätzing, Stephan Ackermann, Michael Gerber, Bertram Meier, and Franz-Josef Overbeck. The secretary general of the bishops’ conference, Beate Gilles, and the spokesman, Matthias Kopp, were also present. Five department heads and a secretary participated on the Vatican side, including Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity.

German bishops who have spoken in favor of blessing same-sex couples include Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference; Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx; Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück; Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen; Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz; and Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden-Meissen.

Overbeck of Essen has publicly said he would not take disciplinary action against priests who blessed same-sex couples.

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued its declaration on March 15, 2022, in a formal document known as a Responsum Ad Dubium (“response to a question”). In reply to the query, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the CDF answered: “Negative.” The congregation — now dicastery — outlined its reasoning in an explanatory note and accompanying commentary.

In its explanatory note, the Vatican said: “The Christian community and its pastors are called to welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations and will know how to find the most appropriate ways, consistent with Church teaching, to proclaim to them the Gospel in its fullness.”

“At the same time, they should recognize the genuine nearness of the Church — which prays for them, accompanies them, and shares their journey of Christian faith — and receive the teachings with sincere openness.”

The Vatican statement sparked protests in the German-speaking Catholic world. Several bishops expressed support for blessings of same-sex couples, while some churches displayed LGBT pride flags and a group of more than 200 theology professors signed a statement criticizing the Vatican.

The backlash prompted bishops in other countries to express fears that the German Church was heading for schism.

German Catholics also criticized defiance over blessing services. The group “Maria 1.0” urged the country’s bishops to unite with Rome in the face of the protests.

Addressing “schismatic tendencies” in the Church in Germany, Helmut Hoping, a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Freiburg, told CNA Deutsch that some of the priests conducting blessings “also openly advocate opening the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples in the medium term.”

Meanwhile, the German Church is facing an exodus of historic proportions. More than half a million baptized Catholics left the Church in 2022, the highest number of departures ever recorded. This mass exodus has led several German bishops critical of the Synodal Way, including Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and Bishop Meier of Augsburg, to acknowledge the Church’s need to regain trust with “patience and credibility.”

The writing is on the wall for the bishops: On Monday, Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg expressed concern about the possible merging of East German dioceses due to financial problems in the wake of the exodus, reported CNA Deutsch. With more and more baptized Catholics refusing to pay the controversial church tax, the German elites that receive funds from the tax — such as the ZdK — are concerned about creating “pressure” for changes while they still have the material means to do so.

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