April 14, 2022

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Over Eighty Catholic Prelates Express Concern to the German Bishops

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An international group of bishops from several continents signed a Fraternal Open Letter expressing concern to some German Catholic Church leaders for their new process called the Synodal Way. The letter signed by over Eighty current ordinaries, auxiliary bishops and retired prelates raised consternation that the Germans may be moving away from the deposit of faith found in scripture and tradition and embracing “sociological analysis and contemporary political, including gender, ideologies.”

The letter is in response to a working document put forth by the German Bishops’ Conference calling for a new look at human sexuality. The document invites German Catholics to define human sexuality and expression in loving human relationships beyond traditional definitions. This is in opposition to established Church teaching defining its purpose in procreation and unity of the spouses, collectively in that order.

The German document:

“Human sexuality, lived with respect for the dignity of others, is an expressive power of the whole person, body and soul, comparable to human language. She can express and experience partnership affection and love in an intensive way.

We perceive several dimensions of sexuality: Lived sexuality is the source of new life, it conveys identity and is a relationship-forming, joyful, life-affirming force. It can even enable a transcendent experience of divine love.

We also perceive that the balance of these dimensions shifts during life and the different phases of a partnership towards new coherence of sexual expression.”

(google translate from German)

The two sides of the dispute

The concerned bishops’ letter opens with the recognition that in this age of global communication, the actions of one nation’s Catholics can instantly affect the whole church. Therefore, this discussion currently happening in one country has worldwide consequences today.

The two sides of this dispute seem to be in the German bishop’s openness to a change in Church teaching on sexual expression. The focus is on including homosexual expression in committed relationships among the so oriented faithful by the Germans. In the Catholic Church, homosexual orientation is not sinful but the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it as an objective disorder. This means it is orientated to something for which it cannot bear proper fruit. For example, homosexual acts cannot bring forth life biologically, the reason for sexuality according to Catholic teaching. Therefore, the acts are sinful. The Catechism also indicates that the genesis of homosexuality is unknown.

The letter to the Germans roots itself in the teachings of Romans 12, in which St. Paul warns against being conformed to the world.

The intercontinental group of signatory bishops raises concerns about the German bishops embracing a worldly sense of freedom rooted in “autonomy” instead of the revealed truth of scripture and tradition — the true source of freedom, the letter signers explained. They warn of a hardening they term sclerosis founded in bureaucratic critiques and forms of naval-gazing that turn one against the spread of the gospel.

The signatory bishops emphasize the need to embrace the encounter with Christ instead of a focus on changing Church teaching.

“The encounter with Jesus, as seen in the Gospel and in the lives of the saints throughout history, changes hearts and minds, brings healing, turns one away from a life of sin and unhappiness, and demonstrates the power of the Gospel.”

The British and German connections

Bishops from various places in the world signed the document including Cardinal Arinze of Nigeria, Archbishop Cordileone of the United States and Cardinal Pell of Australia. As of this writing, there are no Asian bishops among the more than seventy signatories to the document. Most appear to be from current or former British colonies. A few are from Italy and South America. Among the Africans include those from Tanzania, a former colony of both Germany and England and Ghana a former British colony as was Cardinal Arinze’s home in Nigeria.

Many in the church, on both sides of the issue, raise concerns of a schism over the church’s response to homosexuality. The last time such a schism happened was after Vatican II when Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre rejected the ecumenical council as steeped in the French Revolution and formed the Priestly Society of Saint Pius the Tenth (SSPX). The SSPX remains in schism with the Catholic Church to this day.

Homosexuality, although cited in the Bible editions today, is actually a fairly modern term. Wayne Besen, an activist against conversion therapy explains German doctors, ironically, first used the term in 1869. He cites the book Psychoanalysis and Male Sexuality by Kenneth Lewes as his source.

Morally, in earlier centuries, no one saw “homosexual” as part of a separate orientation in human sexuality. Rather, many defined it as a practice by what are assumed to be heterosexuals engaging in immoral homosexual actions. Since that time the church and the world recognized that homosexual relationships have some form of genesis precluding an understanding that all have a heterosexual orientation.

Some see this discussion as another crisis for Catholics. Others see this as a time to define who we are for the twenty-first century in light of the ancient teachings of scripture and tradition.

Catholicism has two roots in revelation

Unlike other Christians who use scripture as the word of God written in stone, Catholic teaching has its foundation in scripture but also the sacred tradition in the Church. For example, while some Christians believe the Book of Genesis describes accurately the creation of the world, the Fathers of the Church saw it not “as an account of the process of the origins of things, but rather as a pointer towards the essential, towards the true beginning and end of our being.” (Pope Benedict XVI Homily Easter Vigil 2011)

Catholics, unlike other Christians, do not see that the path of the disciple is always married life. In fact, Catholics maintain four vocations of which married life is one, the others are priesthood, religious life and single. All Catholics regardless of marital status have a called to the form of chastity that is united to their state of life.

St. Aelred of Rievaulx, a Cistercian monk from the twelfth century, long ago recognized that Christ-centered friendships are the greatest form of love and defined such platonic relationships as a superior form of Christian expression. He defined this in his still-popular book Spiritual Friendship published by the Cistercians.

Saint John Henry Newman had such a platonic friendship with Ambrose St. John so much so that he wrote after the death of his friend of the grief that exceeded what he believed to be of married couples. Some define this as a gay relationship, however, others believe this is the spiritual friendship St. Aelred defined.

The defining argument between the two groups of bishops seems to be over whether or not sexual expression is a part of Catholic life for those outside a sacramental marriage. The signatories to the letter would say no and the Germans seem to indicate yes.

The signatory bishops write that true Catholicism begins with an encounter with Christ.

The Germans call for an understanding of how to treat people in the Church who have a homosexual orientation, suffer from gender dysphoria or other considerations. The signatories raise concerns that establishing a Catholic response different from what is already Catholic teaching may redefine the faith away from her foundation in scripture and sacred tradition.

As this issue seems to progress, time will tell what will be the final result of the current dispute between these groups of bishops arguing on the world’s stage. Will there be a schism, a deepening of doctrine, both or neither?

Sources:

Besen, Wayne, Anything But Straight, 2003 Haworth Press, NY, Kindle Version

Lewes, Kenneth, Psychoanalysis and Male Sexuality, cited in Besen above.

Deutsche Bischofskonferenz und ZdK, Der Synodale Weg, 2022 (translation by Google Translate)

Fraternal Open Letter via National Catholic Register April 11, 2022

Hagerty, Barbara Bradley, Was John Henry Newman Gay?, NPR, Sept 17, 2010

Benedict, XVI Pope, Homily for the Easter Vigil 2011, Rome, www.vatican.va

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