One of Germany’s top prelates has criticized an upcoming Catholic-backed initiative providing blessings for same-sex couples, saying blessings hold spiritual significance and therefore should never be used for political ends or as a means of protest.

In an April 28 statement, Bishop Georg Bätzing of Limburg, president of the German Bishops’ Conference, said the pastors organizing a May 10 national initiative to hold blessing services for same-sex couples “expressly oppose” the Vatican’s ruling against these blessings earlier this year.

“I would like to state emphatically: Of course, people with a homosexual orientation, including those who live in same-sex partnerships, have a place in the Church. You are welcome to us,” he said, insisting that it is part of the Catholic Church’s pastoral service “to do justice to all these people in the respective concrete situations on their path through life and to accompany them with pastoral care.”

“In this context, however, I do not consider public actions such as those planned for May 10 to be a helpful sign and a further path,” he said, explaining that blessing services “have their own theological dignity and pastoral significance” and are therefore “not suitable as an instrument for church political manifestations or protest actions.”

On March 15, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement banning the blessing of those in homosexual relationships on grounds that “God does not bless sin,” as the Catholic Church holds that marriage as instituted by God is a union between a man and a woman.

Limburg Bishop Georg Batzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, is pictured in a March 5, 2020, photo. (Harald Oppitz, KNA via CNS)

The statement was an answer to a dubia, or a “doubt,” which is a formal question posed to the doctrinal office requesting an official response. The identity of the party that posted the dubia was not disclosed.

This thumbs down from the Vatican caused immediate backlash in some sectors of the Church, with faithful and hierarchy divided about whether the Vatican’s response was fair.

Much of that backlash was felt in Germany, where the bishops are currently carrying out a national synod to assess the Church’s response to the clerical sexual abuse crisis in the country, while also delving into other issues such as the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, priestly celibacy, and the all-male priesthood.

Immediately after the Vatican issued its statement saying no to same-sex blessings, several Catholic leaders in Germany, both lay and ordained, mobilized to organize a national day called, “Love wins, blessing service for lovers,” which is set for May 10 and will consist of blessing services for same-sex couples being held throughout the country.

Services are scheduled to take place in parishes in 56 cities across Germany, including Munich, Berlin, Freiburg, Frankfurt, and Cologne, among others.

A statement on the event’s website says that in response to the Vatican’s no to same-sex blessings, “We will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship.”

“We do not refuse a blessing ceremony. We do this in our responsibility as pastors, who promise people at important moments in their lives the blessings that God alone gives. We respect and value their love, and we also believe that God’s blessings are on them,” the statement reads.

Organizers condemned what they said is “an exclusive and outdated sexual morality” which is being “carried out on the backs of people” and which “undermines our work in pastoral care.”

Bätzing’s decision to distance himself from the event appears to deviate from previous statements he has made on the issue of same-sex blessings.

In an interview with German magazine Herder Korrespondenz in December 2020, Bätzing described himself as “conservative,” but called for widespread changes to Church teaching, including its stance on homosexuality.

Among other things, Bätzing suggested that the Catechism of the Catholic Church be changed, saying that at the moment homosexual acts are defined as “intrinsically disordered,” yet homosexual individuals must be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

He also pushed for blessings for couples who cannot marry in the Catholic Church in that interview, saying, “We need solutions that are not only effective in private, but also have public visibility – yet make it clear that no marriage is being established,” he said.

This would apply not only to same-sex couples who are unable to marry in the Catholic Church, but also divorced and remarried Catholics without an annulment.

Bätzing in the interview said he believes forms of welcome can be found for these situations “that are possible in the liturgy” even without a marriage license.

He also called for a reconsideration of the Catholic Church’s male-only priesthood and advocated for allowing women and laypeople generally to preach homilies during Mass.

Similarly, the vice president of the German bishops’ conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck, has previously urged debate on whether the Catholic Church ought to allow blessings for same-sex couples.

In a Jan. 10 interview with the Neue Osnabrucker Zeitung daily, Bode said he was concerned about “how we deal with each other” in the Church, saying that “although ‘marriage for all’ differs clearly from the Church’s concept of marriage, it’s now a political reality.”

“We have to ask ourselves how we’re encountering those who form such relationships and are also involved in the Church, how we’re accompanying them pastorally and liturgically,” he said, adding, “Same-sex relationships are generally classified as a grave sin in the Church, but we need to think how we can differentiate.”

“Shouldn’t we be fairer, given that there is much that’s positive, good and right in this? Should we not, for example, consider a blessing – something not to be confused with a wedding ceremony?” he said.

In Tuesday’s statement condemning the national effort to bless same-sex couples, Bätzing noted that there have long been discussions about “the way in which church sexual morality, including with regard to homosexuality, can be further developed with viable arguments – on the basis fundamental truths of faith and morals, progressive theological reflection, and also in openness to more recent results in the human sciences and the life situations of today’s people.”

“This also includes an appropriate discussion of the question of blessing services,” he said, and touted the Germany bishops’ synodal way as an ideal place “to discuss the topic of successful relationships in a comprehensive way.”