In the latest in a series of attempts by German bishops to align Church teaching with secular values, a sub-committee of the German episcopal conference is planning to amend Church labor law to allow Church employees who are homosexual or divorced and civilly remarried to work in ecclesiastical institutions.
Until now, those employed in the German Church – the second largest employer in the country – are required to adhere to lifestyles consistent with Church teaching.
But on Nov. 24th, a majority of bishops are expected to vote to introduce changes to Church rules to allow such employees to continue working in administrative positions or as heads of departments, or to employ them in the future. The move has been devised in secret and will have important ramifications if enacted, Church observers say.
Given that many homosexuals and divorced and civilly remarried Catholics are already working for the Church, and that the German Church is such a vast operation, proponents argue that these employees must be retained if the Church is continue functioning and offering the services people need.
But opponents dismiss this, saying the proposed changes are part of a highly skilled, secretive and finely tuned plan, devised by some members within the German bishops’ conference to circumvent Church teaching.
A key factor is the notorious Church tax in Germany which has led to complacency. Many dissenting bishops say “it’s simply enough to pay the tax,” said a German Church source. “They feel there’s no need to scrutinize people’s private lives.”
Opponents also dismiss the argument about requiring manpower for services: with a Catholic population of 23 million, it is surely not so difficult to find suitable employees who could adhere to Church teaching on these matters, they say.
The pastoral consequences of changing the Church’s rules on this issue would be significant. Those living in what the Church has always viewed as sinful relationships would henceforth have those lifestyles implicitly affirmed. Furthermore, it would be difficult to say to someone they must confess such sins when their colleagues, who might even be in positions of authority in the Church, are known to be living sinful private lives.
“It would send the message that we don’t really care about the background of new employees and how they live, so we can essentially employ everyone,” said an opponent of the new law.
The proposed changes, allegedly being spearheaded by Jesuit Father Hans Langendörfer, Secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, have been considered in secret for a relatively long time, possibly the past 18 months, according to sources. “It’s like a hidden bombshell”, one informed source close to the German Church says.
The language they will also use will be purposefully nebulous, presenting formulations that are “like jelly, not very concrete and therefore open to interpretations.” This could be used, opponents fear, to dismiss those employees who are upholding Church teaching and being “too Catholic” on the grounds that they are the ones causing scandal by creating a “negative atmosphere.”