"Of course it is disobedience". A service for gay and lesbian couples in defiance of Cardinal

A choir sings, priests bless, 500 people pray: Marianne Arndt is planning a service for gay and lesbian couples for September 20th - in front of Cologne Cathedral and against the stance of Cardinal Woelki.

Christ&Welt: Ms. Arndt, what does that mean: blessing a love?

Marianne Arndt: That's a gift. Blessing means saying something good, encouraging and asking for God's protection. It is a special honor and dignity when people ask me: Can you bless our love?

The 60-year-old works as a pastor in a hospital in Cologne-Kalk and as a community representative in the Vingst and Höhenberg districts in the east of the city.

C&W: Are you allowed to bless at all? You are a community representative for the Catholic community of Cologne-Höhenberg and Vingst.

Arndt: God blesses. I ask for the blessing and speak loudly and clearly to people of the blessing that God gives them. Even a priest or bishop can only ask for the blessing that God gives. How many times in the last hundred years has a mother blessed a child before he or she goes to school? That was never controversial.

C&W: But it is very controversial in the Catholic Church to bless a couple when a man loves a man or a woman loves a woman. Or when two are divorced and remarried. Rome rejects all of this. As recently as 2021, the Vatican religious authority stated: "In addition, since the blessings for persons are related to the sacraments, the blessing of same-sex unions cannot be considered permissible because it would in some way represent an imitation or an analogous reference to the bridal blessing, which is called down to the man and the woman who are united in the sacrament of marriage."

Arndt: God is love - and then he will also give blessings to the lovers. I have also given it to couples who have been divorced and remarried, including a lesbian couple. But I didn't go public with it.

C&W: Different than September 20th. On that Wednesday evening, you and others would like to ask God's blessing for lovers at a very prominent place in Cologne.

Arndt: On September 20th we want to celebrate a big blessing service together at the station forecourt in front of Cologne Cathedral. There will be more than a hundred choristers there. They will line up on the steps from the square up to the cathedral - like an organ. It will be a church of people. We use chalk to draw a large U around which the congregation lines up to represent the nave. In front of them will stand the liturgists who are there to give blessings. The choir sings behind her.

C&W: Have many already registered who would like to be blessed?

Arndt: Yes, a few couples have already registered. We ask God's blessing for all lovers - including same-sex and remarried couples. Priests, pastoral and community speakers will give the blessing. But Catholic men and women have also asked about it. You are not excluded and are allowed to give the blessing.

C&W: How many priests do you expect?

Arndt: I expect more than a handful, most of whom come from the Archdiocese of Cologne. Maybe there will be even more if our blessing service gets a real boost. What can be more beautiful than blessing love?

C&W: Will the blessing take place on church territory or on city property?

Arndt: It's urban land. The City of Cologne has already approved our application.

"We do what we have to do. It's time"

C&W: A spokesman for Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki wrote to us upon request that the archdiocese is committed to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. "We assume that our pastors and our employees know the rules that apply at the universal church level." Are you and the others who work for the Archdiocese of Cologne afraid of consequences?

Arndt: We do what we have to do. It is time. Of course, for us in our diocese it is in a certain sense pastoral disobedience.

C&W: You yourself have already preached at Holy Mass, in 2021 on the so-called Preacher's Day against discrimination against women in the church.

Arndt: In the Archdiocese of Cologne, the sermon during the Eucharistic celebration is actually the responsibility of the deacons and priests. I see it differently, as a pastor I also feel called to interpret God's word in the Eucharist celebration to encourage and strengthen. I was then invited to an interview by Auxiliary Bishop Steinhäuser.

C&W: You weren't reprimanded?

Arndt: No.

C&W: Cardinal Woelki recently reprimanded Pastor Herbert Ullmann from Mettmann near Düsseldorf, who held a blessing service for all loving couples in March. Woelki forbade anything like that to happen again. Aren't you afraid that the priests will feel the same way after your action?

Arndt: We'll see what happens after that. We'll also see what happens before that. That's why we're cautious about naming the names of the contributors. Of course, we informed ourselves about church and labor law. That's important when younger colleagues who have to work for another 30 years join in. Next year isn't the end of work for me either, I'll be working for a few more years. But everyone who takes part says: We no longer want to be silent.

C&W: Do you also see the service on September 20th as a protest against the archdiocese's strict stance, which was evident in the case of Pastor Ullmann?

Arndt: We want to celebrate a happy but also moving service together. We show publicly: All you need is love. After the service there will be two or three short speeches.

What can be more beautiful than blessing love?

C&W: Who holds them?

Arndt: There will be speeches that all focus on encouragement. I don't want to reveal who's talking yet.

C&W: The Synodal Way, the reform process of the church in Germany, decided on March 10th in Frankfurt that same-sex couples should be blessed. Woelki abstained from voting, but more than two-thirds of the bishops voted in favor. Are you relying on that?

Arndt: Exactly. The resolution of the Synodal Way is a basis for us.

C&W: Woelki's spokesman wrote in response to our inquiry: "The archbishop knows about the deep desire of same-sex couples for a church blessing and has great understanding for their struggle. At the same time, he sees that the blessing of same-sex couples is a question that must first be decided at the universal church level." Actually, the cardinal just argues: Guys, that's beyond me. If the Pope goes along with it, I would be there. Can you understand why he wants to wait and see?

Arndt: No, I can't understand that. The majority in Frankfurt in March was so convincing. It would actually be the cardinal's mission to protect his priests, who bless lovers out of the conviction of the Gospel.

“We want to express something on September 20th”

C&W: With your actions you create pressure – and perhaps cause counter-pressure.

Arndt: Maybe it will be easier to decide if it becomes clear: the local believers want this.

C&W: September 20th was not chosen by chance...

Arndt: We thought the date was good, also because it was shortly before the start of the general assembly of the German bishops. We would like to encourage the bishops to continue on this path. And history-conscious people gave us this date.

C&W: On September 20, 2014, Woelki was inaugurated as Archbishop of Cologne. Do you remember his early days?

Arndt: He was welcomed in Cologne with an open heart. After the Meisner era, we needed changes.

C&W: Cardinal Joachim Meisner was an authoritarian traditionalist.

Arndt: I started my service here in 1985 and got to know Meisner extensively. At the beginning of the 2000s, he publicly called for denunciation: Everyone should ensure that the Holy Mass takes place verbatim according to the rite and that no other words are chosen. If someone does this, the person should be reported to them. By then I could no longer go.

C&W: After Meisner, were you excited about Woelki?

Arndt: We were looking forward to the new era. He immediately set good accents: to make the bishop's palace smaller and to be more modest. He introduced new conversation formats. For Corpus Christi 2016, he had a refugee boat brought from Malta to Cologne, which had been confiscated by the Maltese army during a rescue operation. In front of the cathedral he turned the boat into an altar and made a sign. Unfortunately it is now in the House of History over in Bonn.

C&W: Woelki came in 2014 from Berlin, where he was previously archbishop. There he tried to approach gays and lesbians, met with them, and simply represented the position: Marriage remains a matter between a man and a woman because it is open to offspring. At the Catholic Convention in Mannheim in 2012, he also said about homosexual partnerships: "I think it is conceivable that where people take responsibility for each other, where they live in a long-term homosexual relationship, that this should be viewed in a similar way to heterosexual partnerships. " He was even nominated for the Alliance Against Homophobia's "Respect Prize 2012".

Arndt: He came from Berlin, as he was in Berlin. At some point something clicked and he changed. Especially since Meisner died in 2017. From year to year we went back to the old days. He hardened. There is a great sadness in this.

C&W: How did the change come about?

Arndt: A mystery. It seems as if he has to fulfill Meisner's legacy. Maybe he never really broke away from him. He took over from him what was not good for him. And what is not good for us. But it would be presumptuous if I tried to explain the entire development of the cardinal. I can not do that.

C&W: Is it really about the blessings, Ms. Arndt? Or do you do politics with love?

Arndt: The service is all about the service and the blessing! We celebrate those who have just received the blessing. This is followed by a church-political classification. But we are also honest. We want to express something on September 20th.

“It won’t be a Woelki-must-go service”

C&W: Woelki has to go?

Arndt: No, it won't be a Woelki-must-go service. It may well be that his name isn't mentioned at all. We care about the couples we will bless.

C&W: What would happen if Woelki suddenly joined on September 20th? You will celebrate your blessing service just a few minutes from his house.

Arndt: He is invited, like everyone else, of course he can feel invited too.

C&W: The Pope still has a formal request from Woelki to resign. But Francis has been letting him fidget for more than a year. What happens when the Pope makes the final decision: Woelki stays?

Arndt: The reform-minded people in Cologne also expect that nothing will be decided, but that this shaky situation will remain. This is a drama. The mood among colleagues is also quite resigned. Some go, some do their job by the book. Some leave the church immediately after retirement. Others don't give up. We also had a discussion at the blessings: Are we even doing anything anymore?

C&W: And now?

Arndt: Now we just celebrate God and people.

C&W: How many people are you hoping to see on September 20th?

Arndt: It will be a dense atmosphere. If the weather is good, we hope for 400 to 500 people from the entire archdiocese and the neighborhood; we have initially registered 200.

C&W: Why don't you go to a Church?

Arndt: Some people asked me that too. I answered: This requires an invitation from a priest. Someone who goes through with it, even if the cardinal calls 15 minutes before the service and says: Nothing there. But no priest offered us his church.

C&W: The Bishop of Aachen, said in a Christ&Welt interview a year ago: "Homosexuality is not a glitch of God, but intended by God to the same extent as creation itself." He leaves it to the conscience of his priests who they bless. Aachen is close. Why don't you drive over and celebrate the blessings there without fear?

Arndt: We'll stay here. Something has to move here in Cologne. So that the Church of Cologne can live what God wants.

C&W: Outside the cathedral.

Arndt: Yes, we celebrate outside. But we're not outside. We're standing on the asphalt. On the floor. The soil is the basis of our life. And the church belongs to the people, where they stand and how they are. I just walked across the square and took another look at it. I thought: This is the right place for us with God's message.