In open defiance of the Vatican, priests bless homosexual couples on Valentine's Day

The No from Rome to blessings of homosexual couples has had the opposite effect: more than 2,000 parish priests publicly say they will not comply. Stefan Rau, parish priest of St. Joseph in Münster-Süd and thus also of the city's queer community, is one of them. At the same time, he heads the liturgy commission of the diocese, which has already worked on drafts for such celebrations. What does he say about the Roman ban? And how should such blessing services be designed?

Father Rau, the Vatican has banned the blessing of homosexual couples. How does that go down with you as the pastor of a parish where queer services are celebrated regularly?

If you ask the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith what Church teaching is, you cannot expect prophetic instructions for the future. That is not the job of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Nevertheless, the Curia in Rome is one thing - pastoral practice is another. In our parish we have several gay and lesbian couples who are naturally involved in parish life, also in liturgical services as cantors, lectors and communion helpers. In addition, Münster's queer community is indeed integrated into our parish, which, with the knowledge of the diocesan leadership and sometimes with the participation of Auxiliary Bishop Dieter Geerlings, shapes a very intensive parish life. We try to live the present of life and the future of the church.

Have you already been asked by gay or lesbian couples to bless them?

Interestingly, just last weekend, so in the midst of the big buzz after the Vatican no, two gay couples asked me to bless them in the near future. By the way, despite the Roman document, our church was not empty last weekend, but actually better attended on Sunday than usual. Many obviously experience a Church here that has to do with them and their lives. They experience a living faith in the solidarity of a whole congregation. Certainly, many find Rome's statement repulsive, so they leave the church. But with us there is also the reverse, namely trust, progress and welcome.

And? Will you bless the two couples?

Of course they will be blessed. We have done that before and I will do that in the future.

What does the liturgy commission of the diocese think about blessing services for homosexual couples? What is Bishop Genn's attitude?

Three years ago, when I was appointed by the Bishop to chair the commission, I had a discussion with him, together with Nicole Stockhoff, the liturgy officer of our diocese, about future topics of our work. [Cathcon: she has written a book about extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist). In consultation with him, the Liturgy Commission then worked on blessing celebrations for different people and very different life situations, including blessing celebrations for homosexual couples. Last year, the bishop then asked that this work be put on hold for the time being because the Synodal Way was dealing with it. He wanted to wait and see and not rush ahead as the diocese of Münster, which we could well understand. We did not feel thwarted, but - on the contrary - encouraged by the bishop.

What could such a blessing ceremony look like - what would be absolutely necessary, what would have to be taken into account, for example, also with regard to the distinction from the sacrament of marriage for heterosexual couples?

One and a half years ago, we organised a large colloquium with our queer community with more than 80 participants and Auxiliary Bishop Geerlings. Of course, there was also the question of why gays and lesbians cannot marry catholically. Whether two men or two women need the same form as a heterosexual couple - that is a very profound question.

In any case, according to good Catholic tradition, a blessing celebration has some clear elements: the praise of God in view of this situation, a biblical reading, finally a larger prayer of blessing in which God is thanked and also asked that he may guide what we present to him here for good. This is an important idea that I would emphasise in all blessing celebrations and also bring into the theological discussion with Rome: a blessing celebration does not mean that what we bless here is automatically good. It is not about magic! It is about giving thanks to God, but also about a mission. To put it somewhat flippantly: If I bless a car, it can still be driven recklessly afterwards. A sacramental marriage can also lead to tragic lovelessness - and so can a lesbian or gay relationship. And we have experienced that ordination as a priest or bishop does not automatically protect against abuse.

So: A prayer takes the situation seriously, asks God for assistance so that what is started and blessed here will also progress in the future with his help and our good deeds.

What liturgical gestures could be used to express this in such a celebration?

In the celebrations I have led, everyone involved agreed: we are not playing wedding ceremony here. That is important with the signs. White wedding dresses, exchange of rings and the stole around the couple's intertwined hands - that would not be appropriate until theological clarification. The blessing can include the laying on of hands, for example, on the shoulders of the couple, the blessing with holy water, the handing over of a symbol of communion.

Now there are to be open blessing services in various churches in Germany on 10 May. The right way?

I perceived this with some surprise. Of course, there is nothing wrong in inviting people to be blessed. At the end of our last Sunday Mass, I also did not tell the gay and lesbian people in the congregation to please leave the church before the blessing, of course they will be blessed as well. Also at the blessing ceremonies on Valentine's Day in the past years, everyone was always invited, there is no question about that. In this respect, I don't know whether these general and open blessing celebrations on 10 May are the right impulse for what is currently at stake. It is not two individual people who are to be blessed - which, by the way, the Vatican logically expressly approves of - but, in my opinion, it is about blessing the life relationship, the promise of two people. Whether this is expressed in such a general blessing ceremony, I don't know.

Could these blessing services be a first step to give more emphasis to the demands by creating facts?

I never want to rule out where there can be steps forward everywhere. It seems important to me to have a pastoral practice on the ground that strives to strengthen all serious ways of life and faith with God's blessing in the sense of the Gospel. And I am glad about the impulse of Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck and others who now expect an open discussion about the theological status quo as presented by the Vatican. Our faith is after all something living, dynamic, which is allowed to develop again and again. Will these blessing celebrations also help this development? Perhaps they are a first step, perhaps.


His clerica mist be at the dry cleaners

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