“It comes across as condescending”

The Vatican's ban on blessings for homosexual couples is meeting with massive resistance in some church circles. Wurzburg university pastor Burkhard Hose is active on the front line. Unity with Rome does not justify everything for him.

Sky Clear: They stand up for the rights of homosexuals in the church and clearly criticize the Vatican's ban on blessings. But there is also the other side of the debate. For example, it is argued that the Church can value, recognize, respect homosexual people without changing Catholic teaching. Is there not something to it?

Burkhard Hose (Catholic Wurzburg university pastor, theologian and author): Of course, you can do it from a certain perspective, but my experience is that all the last years that I've been working on human rights ies, whether with refugees or with other marginalized and discriminated groups in society, the important thing is to look at the ies from the perspective of those who are discriminated against, who are experiencing discrimination. Now you tell someone who is gay or transgender or in a lesbian relationship, "We accept you as a person, but not your relationship. This is an unreasonable and for me also not logically comprehensible separation of the person and the way of life of the person – in the sense of the responsible way of life.

Relationships can be led responsibly, but also irresponsibly – this concerns all relationships after all. That's not what we're talking about. But if I say to a woman who lives in a lesbian partnership: Yes, I recognize you as a person, but your relationship is sinful, then you make a dividing line between what belongs to the person quite essentially, namely his relationship and also the ability to relate. This is not comprehensible to me. And that is the logic behind it.

It seems condescending to those who experience this discrimination. When Rome says: We turn to you and accompany you pastorally, then these people are not considered as subjects, but as objects of attention and help. Their relationship will still be condemned – and the relationship cannot be separated from the person. The Vatican must understand this. There lies the crux. And then to say: This is not discrimination – this is even stated in this Roman answer – this is a real imposition.

Clear as day: The American Jesuit James Martin, who stands up for the rights of homosexuals, tries to look at it differently. He says that in this Vatican document one should not fixate on what is already known and established, but on what is new. The document speaks for the first time about the fact that there are also positive aspects of homosexual relationships. Let's focus too much on the negative there?

Pants: I ask myself, if we do not then nevertheless lag 10 km behind with the view on the allegedly positive aspects. So for me it is really a human rights question. It is about justice. The logic of human rights is, I think, different from the logic that at the moment still determines church teaching at this point. That's why for us it's really a question of changing doctrine on the basis of full recognition of human rights.

By the way, also in other points: In the recognition of the rights of women, also in the recognition of the integrity of all persons – there the ies are related, also in the ie of abuse. Full recognition means that the dignity of the person always comes before the dignity of the institution, – I think there's some catching up to do in the church on this. And if it does not succeed in actually changing doctrine on these points, it will not survive the present. Then the message is made irrelevant in society by the institution.

Clear as day: The question is how we will look at the subject in 50 or 100 years. Are these facts really set in stone, or do we then think about it the way we look today at, for example, the views before the Second Vatican Council ..

Pants: There I agree with you completely. I also see it that way. I am a person who is very strongly influenced by the Bible. It is simply also determined by my professional background. I was an assistant at the Biblical Institute here in Wurzburg for a long time and am involved in the Bible Society. My understanding of what it means to be a Christian is very much a biblical one. If there is one thing I have learned from my study of the Bible and also from my scholarly work with the texts, it is that nothing is set in stone. The so-called eternal truth, which is proclaimed again and again by some in the church, does not actually exist.

Truths are always contextual. And we can see from the Bible how organizational structures, how the understanding of ministry, how the view of people as persons and their relationships has changed in the course of the development of the biblical texts. I mention again the topic sexuality and relationship. This has a completely different quality in the Bible than we see today in the present. In the Hebrew Bible, in the Old Testament, certain texts are repeatedly brought up in the argumentation that they view same-sex sexuality critically. But this fails to recognize that sexuality was an expression of power at that time. Even today, for example in wars, sexuality is still used as a gesture of submission, for example rape in the course of wars. That has something to do with power. This is a perspective that is still determined above all by texts in the Hebrew Bible. But that is also another of Paul's views on sexuality. That which we associate with love and relationship also with sexuality is not to be found there.

Heavenly clear: That is, a further development of the teaching would be to say: we condemn abuse, exploitation, violence in sexual relationships regardless of sexual orientation, but if the same love is shown that exists in a Catholic marriage, then it would also be justified to apply that to other relationships, because those relationships were not meant, known or mentioned at all in the Bible at that time.

pants: The moral theology of our time has long since reached this level. That is also one of the problems of this declaration from Rome, that it is no longer in line with theology, at least with current moral theology. For a long time, all forms of relationship in moral theology have been considered under these criteria and maintain the responsibility of unconditional respect for the integrity of the other person. That has nothing to do with sexual orientation. This has to do with the way the relationship is conducted. And in Christian moral theology and ethics we have very valuable things to contribute, so that human relationships succeed. That is what we should concentrate on in the church. I believe that this is actually what would provide criteria, as you said, for actually evaluating relationships as to whether they harm people, whether sexuality respects integrity or whether it degenerates into violence, into the exercise of power, and becomes abusive.

Clear as day: Now homosexuality is a big taboo subject in the church. One gets the impression that many deny the blessing not because it corresponds to their Christian conviction, but simply out of homophobia. Is it even possible to develop the doctrine when there is such a great irrational fear in parts of the church that has nothing to do with the real ie?

Pants: I have affirmed a lot in recent months with the philosopher Michel Foucault. Who says yes: Religion and especially the Christian religion and the Christian church as an institution are indeed almost hypersexualized, because they are so focused on this ie of sexuality. This also makes it a strong ie of power. So the concealment, the suppression and the prohibition creates a tremendous power of this topic. I think this needs to be exposed very clearly. You can see that also in the structures. Sometimes you ask yourself: Why are they so fixated on this topic?? This, after all, always makes it much bigger than it actually is sometimes even present in people's normal lives. So you have a hyper presence of sexuality in the Christian church.

I think you have to see that and you have to go about changing the doctrine. And there's a basis for that. The basis is the message of Jesus, but now in our time today and not detached from the historical context. For me, simply the basis of our living together today is the full recognition of human rights.

Sky Clear: If we think the whole thing through to the end, it means, for example, that a new council would be needed to regulate this anew. Which would then guarantee that the more conservative circles of the church would not go along with it. Keyword schism, church schism. Is this something where you should actually beware of or is simply the break in content already there and you can't find any other way anyway?

Pants: I think the break in content is already there. For me the argument of unity on the world church level is dangerous. At what cost do we want unity? Do we want to relativize human rights to a level where everyone can join in?? Incidentally, we have also received reactions to our declaration from countries such as Poland or, as I also hear from conversations, from African countries, who say: We are just waiting for you to take a step ahead in Germany, because it is about our rights. We do not have the means to express ourselves in this way.

So whoever says that we have to be considerate of cultural conditions in other countries, I have to ask: Do you mean that we have to be considerate of a disregard for human rights?? A little discrimination is allowed? A little persecution, too, in return for a little more recognition – that can't be it. I think that in asking for a council, one must also ask what a split might mean: At what cost do I maintain unity? For me, this price cannot mean a reduction in human rights.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.

This is an excerpt of the conversation. You can listen to the complete interview in the current episode of the Podcasts Sky Clear – an inter-diocesan podcast project coordinated by MD GmbH in cooperation with katholisch.de and our site. Supported by the Catholic Media House in Bonn and APG mbH. Moderated by Renardo Schlegelmilch and Katharina Geiger.

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