Germany’s quiet Catholic rebellion on gay blessings and women preachers
The church bells fade away, the organ starts playing and Father Jan Korditschke walks up to the altar to say Mass. It all looks like a very ordinary Sunday Catholic service.
But there’s a feeling of nervous anticipation in the air. Something very unusual is about to happen.
Fr Korditschke says that anyone who would like to receive a blessing should stand up. Most of the congregation stand, including about a dozen same-sex couples. As harp music plays, the priest moves through the church, quietly asks those standing what they would like prayed for. Then he raises his hands over bowed heads and whispers an individual prayer.
Many have tears in their eyes. That’s because for the lesbian and gay Catholics here, after a lifetime in the Church, this is the first time they have felt fully accepted.
“It’s very painful and I notice how wounded I feel,” says Sangha, a practicing Catholic all her life, who’s here with Frieda, her partner of 25 years.
“For 49 years I have not been welcome. But finally, people are starting to say: it’s OK that you’re here.”
How the Vatican shocked liberal Catholics
For Matthias, who was also born Catholic and received a blessing with his partner Thomas, going to Mass has never been a problem. But statements from Catholic officials have made him consider leaving the Church.
“I have often wondered whether I can stay in a Church that doesn’t want me. But the ‘real’ Church here, on the ground, restores my faith again.”
Ironically it was one such official statement that led to today’s service. In March the Vatican released a stern pronouncement, calling same-sex unions “sinful” and reiterating a ban on priests giving blessings to same-sex unions.
This is something individual, liberally minded priests sometimes do – but until now rarely in public.
The Vatican’s blunt statement shocked liberal Catholics in Germany. In response thousands of parish priests, nuns and parishioners launched a campaign, called Liebe gewinnt (Love Wins), to publicly make clear that LGBTQ people are welcome in their churches.
“I felt anger, and shame, because I think it was a very hurtful statement,” Fr Korditschke told me. He is one of around 120 priests in Germany who decided to publicly defy the Vatican’s ban.
How can you not bless someone in mourning?’
Over the space of a week the priests conducted services in Catholic churches all over Germany with individual blessings for anyone who wanted them, including couples in relationships the Vatican regards as sinful, such as divorced people or same-sex couples.
When I asked Fr Korditschke how he justified going against the Vatican’s ruling, he answered with tears in his eyes.
There was someone in his congregation who had put a rose on the seat beside him for his partner who died a few months before; he had spoken of the pain he was in and had asked for a blessing for his deceased partner, to help him bear the loss.