The Queer Catholic Movement in Germany

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The Queer Catholic Movement in Germany

Poslaťod h111 » 08 Okt 2016, 11:55

The Queer Catholic Movement in Germany
(Michael Brinkschröder, HuK e.V.)

Being a gay man of faith often means living a no-man’s-land. When I initiated the first seminar on gay theology in the early 90s for German speaking countries, I asked the Gay Association of Germany (SVD) for organising financial support. This was promised to me. But when the seminar should take place, it turned out that the people in the office had done nothing for us, basically because we were gay Christians. From this disappointment I learned that LGBT people of faith can’t trust secular gay organisations and I kept distance from secular LGBT organisations for many years. − This was my “too religious to be queer”-experience.
Until now, there are still many LGBT people who regard LGBT people of faith as idiots who can be fooled and should better be silenced. However, I am very happy to see that there are also efforts embracing the diversity within the LGBTI community including the diversity of different beliefs. ILGA-Europe has taken leadership towards such an understanding and the LSVD has defended LGBT faith groups at various moments against secularist wishes for silencing our voices within the community and that the Hirschfeld-Eddy-Foundation has initiated training weeks for LGBT activists from Africa on dealing with religion.
On the other side, I also experienced exclusion from the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). After I finished my studies of theology, I wanted to write a doctoral dissertation on the roots of Christian homophobia, but found it impossible to find a professor of theology who was willing to become my doctoral father or mother. By consequence, I had to go into the “exile” of sociology to finalize my doctorate. Afterwards, it was impossible for me to find a job as lay pastoral worker in one of the three dioceses I’d been living until then. Being gay excluded me from working in the Catholic Church. However, I am happy that I found a job as teacher of Catholic religious education in a vocational college run by the city of Munich. The interview for the “missio canonica”, the permission from the Church to teach religious education in her name, was based on the slogan “don’t ask, don’t tell”, but I was informed that entering a civil union would be a cause to withdraw this licence and to fire me. “Otherwise, your private life doesn’t interest us,” I was told. − Too queer to be religious.

Now, let me turn from my personal experiences to the activities of the Catholic queer “movement” in Germany. When I started the Gay Theology Study Group in 1991, I was convinced that the only field to make progress within the RCC was the academic theological discourse, while dialogue with bishops or parishes was futile. This turned out to be a realistic analysis for the next 20 years, because Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI blocked any kind of progress in the moral doctrine about lesbian and gay people. Especially Pope Benedict created an atmosphere of fear, so that no bishop and no academic theologian dared to publish different opinions. After dozens of scholars and bishops with a liberal position were condemned by the Congregation of Faith, the topic was more or less silenced. The original enthusiasm of Catholic LG people, nurtured by the hopes from the II Vatican Council, the national German Synod in 1975, feminist and liberation theology in the 80s, was frustrated again and again. During these years, many former activists lost their hope for change and either stopped their activism or left the Roman Catholic Church. Only a small remnant remained in the Catholic working group of HuK, not enough to do any relevant activist work. Instead, Catholic LGBT people started to build service communities in several cities of Germany like Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Münster or Munich, taking care to nurture their spirituality.
Only towards the end of the Papacy of Benedict, in 2011, new signals came from a number of Cardinals saying that lesbian and gay people must be included in the parish, that they may hold offices in the parish council or that faithful gay couples are realizing Christian values. This was the moment when Markus Gutfleisch and I founded the “Catholic LGBT Committee”, bringing together Catholics from the diverse Christian LGBT groups in Germany. This Catholic Committee turned out to be a very fruitful network for doing church politics in the past 5 years, because we managed to meet the chair of the pastoral commission of the Catholic Bishop’s Conference annually.
We started with interventions in the already on-going discussion about a reform of church labour rules. This was a minor success only, because still the rule is that pastoral workers and teachers of religious education loose their job if they enter a civil union, while this is no longer the case for all other employees of the RCC. Compared to the current battle in the US, where hundreds of LGBT employees in the field of education are getting fired, in Germany this conflict zone is rather calm at the moment, but far from a fully satisfying solution.
Our second issue was and still is the institutionalization of pastoral care for LGBT people. Currently, this exists in six dioceses. Our goal is to convince another six dioceses in the next two years. We are in dialogue with several bishops and responsible people for pastoral care. A recent success was the institutionalization of pastoral care for LGBT people in the city church of Frankfurt.
A new topic in our dialogue are ritual blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples who enter a civil union. The Central Committee of German Catholics, the biggest organisation of lay Catholics, supported this kind of blessings for same-sex couples in a public statement. Also, the Synod of the diocese of Trier has asked for proper liturgical accompaniment of same-sex couples. There is also a broad clandestine practice, priests who celebrate a Eucharist including the blessing even though it is not yet allowed.
A crucial event in the RCC was the Family Synod in Rome in 2014 and 2015. The preparation for the Synod started with a questionnaire that included questions about natural law, same-sex couples and rainbow families. The response rate in the German speaking countries was immense, clearly asking for massive reforms of the moral doctrine. While this dynamic also characterized the interim report of the first Synod, a massive protest from conservative bishops from the US, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe and all over the world blocked a major step forward in matters of homosexuality until the end of the Synod. The only window of opportunity that was officially opened is the field of pastoral work with lesbian and gay people and their families. This is the reason why we focus our work on pastoral care and blessing ceremonies.
The work of the German bishops during the Family Synod brought two other fruits:
1. They were successful in amending the final document in such a way, that a positive notion of gender was included. Their phrase was also received by Pope Francis in “Amoris laetitia”, a document in which he presented the doctrinal result of the Synod. This was achieved in the middle of the on-going storm among the Catholic hierarchy against so-called “gender ideology”. This term is used as a weapon against the introduction of same-sex marriage or partnership laws and new curricula that teach acceptance of LGBT people instead of mere tolerance − among others. Deconstructionist gender theory in the sense of Butler is perceived as destructive for Catholic marriage, for the order of human society and humankind. It is perceived as an apocalyptic threat similar to the second World War, Nazism and Stalinism, to name the most dramatic comparisons. In a global perspective, the anti-gender movement, which is rooted in the network building and ideological formation of the Pontifical Council for the Family since 1995, is currently the biggest threat for the LGBT movement from the side of the Catholic Church.
2. During the Synod, the German speaking bishops published a statement in which they asked for an apology for the harm they have done to lesbian and gay people because the have given priority to the moral doctrine instead of the pastoral approach. Cardinal Marx, chair of the German Bishop’s Conference, repeated this idea and also Pope Francis responded to it in one of his famous airplane interviews. It is not yet clear, if these apologies are meant seriously or only nice words. However, these statements offer us another topic for our dialogue with the church.
I don’t want to close without mentioning that the two Synods in Rome created an opportunity for Catholic LGBT groups around the world to get in touch with each other for the first time, to work together and finally to build the “Global Network of Rainbow Catholics”. The European Forum of LGBT Christian groups has played a leading role in the efforts to bring this new network together. The Queer Catholic movement in Germany is actively involved in this global organisation building process.
Let me summarize our approach: In our dialogue with church leaders, we are mainly using the language of pastoral work, because this is the language that church leaders understand best and it is a new opportunity that came up with the Family Synod. Pastoral is a specific approach within the church for addressing the individual person in his or her concrete life situation. It is a counterweight against the traditional dominance of dogmatic and moral theology.
A supplementary language is the one of human rights. It has been accepted during the II Vatican Council as framework for the social ethics of the Roman Catholic and has gained ground since then. Appealing to human rights is crucial when it comes to the international dimensions of the work of the Catholic Church in Germany.
But as the recent interviews of Pope Francis during his journey to Georgia and Azerbaijan have shown, the pastoral approach is getting more and more connected with the moral panic about gender. In this constellation, the pastoral approach doesn’t have the goal to lead to full acceptance of LGBT people and to the recognition of our moral equality, but puts us and fixes us in a position of being pitied and objectified. It looses the emancipatory power, which the pastoral work could gain when it is articulated in combination with the Catholic human rights discourse.
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