A German archbishop has again apologized to lesbian, bisexual and gay people for church mistreatment, saying the abuse was an “unholy tradition”.
Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin apologized during a prayer service, which took place on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. According to National Catholic Journalist:
“Homophobia was an ‘unholy tradition’ in the Catholic Church,” Koch said May 17 during an ecumenical service at the Protestant Church of the Twelve Apostles in Berlin.
“German Catholic news agency KNA said it called for respect for the dignity of every human being, regardless of sexual orientation, and announced that the Archdiocese of Berlin would take steps to ensure this.
“The Archbishop said that each parish would have commissioners to counter such discrimination. He pledged to personally intervene if Archdiocesan employees were threatened with consequences under Church labor law because of their sexual orientation. He added that he was not aware of any such case in the Archdiocese until now, KNA reported.
The apology follows a 2014 intervention at the Synod on the Family in which Koch also raised the issue of the church’s apologies to groups, including homosexuals, against whom the church had taken ” harsh and ruthless attitudes”. He then commented, “As Bishops of our Church, we ask forgiveness from these people.”
The pledge to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination builds on Koch’s announcement in 2021 that he would appoint an archdiocesan official to lead LGBTQ outreach. Since being named archbishop by Pope Francis in 2015, Koch has taken a number of other LGBTQ-positive steps. The archbishop visited a center for gay migrants, participated for gay victims of the Nazi regime, met with LGBTQ groups in the Berlin area and issued a statement that homosexuality was “normal.” As he opposed Germany’s adoption of marriage equality in 2017, he spoke positively about same-sex couples and hinted at support for civil protections and church blessings for couples. LGBTQ couples.
Koch’s influence extends beyond his archdiocese, as he has chaired the German Bishops’ Conference Commission for Marriage and the Family since 2014.
Advances on LGBTQ issues in the German church seem to be happening almost daily. Just this week Collages 2.0 reported on the presence of a German bishop at a liturgy of blessing including LGBTQ couples. And, as far as the apology goes, in March Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising offered his own message on behalf of the church at a Mass celebrating LGBTQ pastoral ministry in that archdiocese.
Although headlines often focus on the actions of church leaders, it should be remembered that these statements are the product of decades of grassroots activism by Catholics. And while the news is good enough, it shouldn’t slow or stop this activism because an apology is only a necessary first step on the road to reconciliation.
If you are curious about why such positive developments are possible and happening in Germany, check out the original commentary by Catholic LGBTQ leader Michael Brinkschröder for Collages 2.0here.
You can also read an article here by Mara Klein, a young non-binary participant in the country’s synodal path process.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, May 20, 2022