Catholic blessings of gay relationships may not be appropriate in each and every situation not because homosexuals don’t deserve this grace of God in their lives but because, like people of every sexual identity, they may in fact need more from the Church at the particular crossroads they find themselves in. By advancing this argument, the president of the German Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, has broken new ground in the Church’s treatment of gays and lesbians, a sign of which being that the significance of his latest remarks on the subject has completely flown over the heads of most Church commentators.
English media outlets were quick to interpret comments made by the Archbishop of Munich in a radio interview February 3 as him endorsing the prospect – originally made in January by Osnabruck Bishop Franz-Josef Bode – that the Church should debate the possibility of holding blessing ceremonies in churches for gay couples. The German Bishops’ Conference has this last Wednesday released a transcript of the Cardinal’s remarks which suggests that Marx actually said “I think that would not be right” when asked about the prospect of such liturgical ceremonies.
But does that mean Marx has actually backpedalled? Not the way I read it. While cautious about the possibility of blessing gay partnerships, Marx declared that the real question at stake in the pastoral care of homosexual “is how the Church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today – but also by new insights, of course”.
“We have to consider the situation of the individual, his life history, his biography, the disruptions he goes through, the hopes that arise, the relationships he lives in – or she lives in”, the Cardinal continued. “We have to take this more seriously and have to try harder to accompany people in their circumstances of life”.And further: “We must be pastorally close to those who are in need of pastoral care and also want it. And one must also encourage priests and pastoral workers to give people encouragement in concrete situations. I do not really see any problems there. An entirely different question is how this is to be done publicly and liturgically. These are things you have to be careful about, and reflect on them in a good way“.
Marx also stated that while “general solutions” such as public ritual blessings may not be appropriate, “that does not mean that nothing happens, but I really have to leave that to the pastor on the ground, accompanying an individual person with pastoral care. There you can discuss things, as is currently being debated, and consider: How can a pastoral worker deal with it? However, I really would emphatically leave that to the pastoral field and the particular, individual case at hand, and not demand any sets of rules again – there are things that cannot be regulated”.
Therein lies the rub: “general solutions” such as one-size-fits-all blessings may not be appropriate for gay couples, since “there are things that cannot be regulated”. What I understand (or hope) Cardinal Marx to be saying here is this: that even if gay relationships are not analogous to heterosexual marriages – a point made too by Pope Francis – that does not mean that there are lacking in holiness, but in actual fact have an uncategorizable holiness all of their own, and demand a unique grace – perhaps not forthcoming in “standard” blessings – to feed on.
This is where I see the one-of-a-kind, on the ground pastoral care that Marx proposes comes into its own. By which pastors could testify on behalf of the Church to the special love gay couples enjoy and be brave enough to seek something more than a run-of-the-mill blessing borrowed from heterosexual rituals.