13 DECEMBER 2019, THE TABLET
by Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
A key group of German bishops attended an experts’ consultation on how to discuss human sexuality in both scientific and theological terms in Berlin from 3-4 December. Organised by the bishops’ conference’s commission for marriage and the family, as a prelude to the synodal procedure involving clergy and laity that begins in January 2020, the bishops agreed according to their post-consultation statement “that people’s sexual preference developed during adolescence and took on a hetero- or homosexual form. Both belonged to the normal forms of a sexual predisposition which is unalterable and should not be changed by specific socialisation.”
The Berlin consultation was organised together with the Institute for Christian Ethics and Politics (IPEC) and attended by Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin, who is in charge of family affairs in the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz and Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, as well as several auxiliary bishops together with medical experts and theologians. It is part of the two-year German “synodal procedure” on church reform that was launched on the first Sunday of Advent.
An explanatory text plus a summary of the consultation was immediately published on the bishops’ conference’s website. The commission for marriage and the family had wanted – “already in the preparatory phase” of the synodal procedure – to contribute to the discussions on sexual morality and to “discuss the subject from the medical, anthropological and moral-theological point of view as also to go into church teaching on sexual morality, its history and background”, the bishops’ conference’s text explained.
It continued: “The chairman of the commission for marriage and the family, Archbishop Heiner Koch, emphasised that it was imperative for the synodal procedure to begin impartially and without fixed positions but not without knowledge of the present state of science… the bishops agreed that people’s sexual preference was formed during puberty when it took on a hetero- or homosexual form which is unalterable … This means that all forms of discrimination against homosexuals must be rejected, as church teaching demands and as Pope Francis expressly emphasised in Amoris Laetitia.”
However, the statement went on to delineate areas of disagreement over the implications of this position: “The bishops did not agree, however, on whether present church teaching, which forbids the practice of homosexuality, was still up-to-date. They also differed on the question of whether or not the use of artificial birth control was permitted in marriage or in co-habitation. Archbishop Koch and Bishop Bode underlined the importance of a sound discussion supported by theology and the human sciences and highlighted the developments that could already be found in Amoris Laetitia. Thus a sexual relationship after divorce and remarriage was no longer always a grave sin, neither did it always mean that the person concerned could no longer receive the Eucharist, they recalled.”
The results of the Berlin consultation will flow into the synodal procedure’s forum on “Life in succeeding relationships – Living love in sexuality and partnership.”
I think it is very commendable that the German bishops are discussing these topics openly and with input from experts in the fields of medicine, psychology and genetics.
A modern authentic theology must develop in dialogue with all branches of knowledge.
We cannot have a 21st century theology based on the lack of knowledge and information from biblical and other sources from the time before Christ lived.
Of course we must have an authentic theology of sexual morality and sin. And it would be false, morally simply to make all sexual morality and sin purely subjective.
And at the same time we cannot have a theology that is based on ignoring the achievements of science and new knowledge.
As Christian’s we believe that alll knowledge comes from God and God speaks to us in everything, including scientific and knowledge developments.
Any relationship that is founded on love is good, because God is love.