Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said Sunday that the Vatican’s rejection of blessings for same-sex couples was marked by a “clear communication error.”
Renewing his earlier criticism of the intervention by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Archbishop of Vienna told the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (ORF) March 28 that he was concerned by both the timing and form of the ruling.
“I wasn’t happy — neither about the timing nor about the way in which communication was being made,” he said on the discussion program “Pressestunde”.
CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that Schönborn also expressed regret that same-sex couples felt hurt by the ruling.
The 76-year-old cardinal, who helped to produce the Catechism of the Catholic Church, said that he appreciated the intention to highlight the significance of sacramental marriage between a man and a woman.
But he argued that the Vatican’s declaration was undermined by a “clear communication error,” coming after the pope’s successful trip to Iraq.
The Church should always be “mater et magistra” (mother and teacher), he said, but “first comes the mother.” He said he therefore understood when people asked themselves, “Does this mother not have a blessing for me?”
At the same time, the cardinal declared: “We should talk less about sexuality and more about love; more about successful relationships and less about what is allowed and what is not.”
Schönborn, who noted that he has served as a CDF member for 25 years, said he regretted that the committee to which he belongs was not consulted over such a “sensitive question.”
The CDF issued a “Responsum ad dubium” March 15 replying to the query, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The doctrinal congregation answered, “Negative,” explaining its reasoning in an “explanatory note” and accompanying commentary.
The ORF interview marked the second time that Schönborn had publicly addressed the CDF’s statements.
Speaking to the diocesan newspaper Der Sonntag in an interview published March 24, he also compared the Church to a mother, saying, “a mother will not refuse to bless” her children, “even when her son or her daughter is going through a problem in life.”
Archbishop Franz Lackner, Schönborn’s successor as president of the Austrian bishops’ conference, also expressed reservations about the CDF document.
“That no ritual accompaniment at all is possible here by the Church is hard to believe,” he said March 19.
German bishops who have spoken in favor of blessing same-sex couples include Bishop Georg 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.
Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen said March 29 that he would not take disciplinary action against priests who blessed same-sex couples.
But other German bishops have welcomed the Vatican’s clarification, including Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, Bishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg, Bishop Ulrich Neymeyer of Erfurt, Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg.
On March 27, representatives of the German Church’s controversial “Synodal Way” presented a petition with 2,600 signatures by male and female pastoral workers, including priests, in favor of blessing same-sex partnerships.
CNA Deutsch reported that the petition was given to Bishop Dieser, co-director of the Synodal Way’s forum on sexuality, at an event that featured a rainbow flag and the banner of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), a powerful lay body overseeing the synodal process with the German bishops.
Also present at the event was Birgit Mock, who co-chairs the forum on sexuality with Dieser. She also serves as the ZdK’s family policy spokesperson and is vice-president of the German Catholic Women’s Association (KDFB).
According to a press release from the Synodal Way, Mock said: “It is our concern to anchor sexuality as a positive force in the teachings of the Church. Forcing couples in loving relationships who live in fidelity and mutual appreciation to negate their sexuality as a couple does not correspond to our image of man and God.”
“This official Church re-evaluation of sexuality is also important to us at the ZdK so that in the future pastors do not have to decide only according to their conscience when they bless same-sex couples. The ZdK advocates that such a blessing ritual be drafted for all German dioceses.”
Dieser said that the CDF’s responsum had caused “irritation and annoyance.”
“It is precisely in our forum that we are debating this highly topical issue, the contents of which we will take to Rome,” the 58-year-old bishop commented.
“I can very well imagine that pastoral workers on the ground are currently undergoing a severe test of strength. We would like to encourage them to participate in the theological debate.”
“A recognition of sexuality with its manifold dimensions and changes in the course of life ultimately also benefits the appreciation of a sacramentally contracted marriage of man and woman.”
In its explanatory note, the CDF 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.”