As It Happens

German priests are blessing same-sex unions in direct defiance of a Vatican order

Father Christian Olding says he won't back down from blessing same-sex unions, even if he faces reprimand from the Catholic church.

Father Christian Olding says he wants 'show these couples that they are welcome' in the church

Vicar Wolfgang Rothe, left, blesses the couple Christine Walter, centre, and Almut Muenster, right, during a Catholic service blessing same-sex couples in St. Benedict's Church in Munich on Sunday. (Felix Hoerhager/The Associated Press)

Father Christian Olding says he won't back down from blessing same-sex unions, even if he faces reprimand from the Catholic church.

"If so, I have to carry it, because I can't act against my mind and against my beliefs," the German priest told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Olding is one of more than 100 German Catholic protests who are publicly blessing same-sex unions this week in defiance of the Vatican's orders, sometimes in live-streamed, rainbow-decked ceremonies. 

It's part of an initiative called Liebe Gewinn or "Love Wins," and it comes after the Vatican's doctrinal office said in March that priests cannot bless same-sex unions in lieu of marriage, because God "cannot bless sin."

While same-sex marriage has been legal in Germany since 2017, Catholic churches do not perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. But Olding says he and other like-minded priests have been secretly been performing symbolic blessings for same-sex couples for years. 

"We will no longer do this in a secret way," Olding said. 

Oldin says the Vatican's position doesn't hold water within the Christian philosophy that God is love and all humans are created in his image. 

"We can no longer say that same-sex love is a sin. And so we want to show another way of handling this love," Olding said.

"That is why we started this campaign — to show these couples that they are welcome, that their love has got dignity, that their love is representing the love of God. And so there's every right for them to get a blessing within the church."

The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing, head of the German Bishops Conference, has condemned the initiative, saying the blessings "are not suitable as an instrument of church political manifestations or political actions."

Christian Olding — a priest at St. Maria Magdalena in Geldern, Germany— is one of more than 100 German priests who are publicly blessing same-sex unions in defiance of an order handed down by the Vatican in March. (Submitted by Christian Olding)

The blessings are taking place at churches all over the country this week, and are open to couples of all orientation. 

"The same-sex couples ... told us that they felt welcome, sometimes for the first time within churches," Olding said.

"So it was the kind of giving them back a home within this Catholic Church. And that made myself very sad that we have suggested [to] them that they were not welcome throughout the last decades."

Alexander Langwald is legally married to his partner, but never had the union blessed within his own faith until he and partner attended a Liebe Gewinn event on Monday.

"It's about equality, that we all belong to God's creation, no matter in which relationship we live," Langwald told the Washington Post

Rothe, center, blesses two men during at St. Benedict's Church as part of the 'Love Wins' initiative. (Felix Hoerhager/The Associates Press)

The March ban on blessings, approved by Pope Francis, sparked dissent within the Church and surprised many because he has been more conciliatory toward gay people than perhaps any other pontiff. 

The pushback has been particularly strong in Germany. The Catholic Church there, facing declining numbers, has been at the forefront of opening discussion on hot-button issues such as the church's teaching on homosexuality as part of a formal process of debate and reform.

In March, more than 2,000 priests, theologians and other members of the Catholic Church in Germany and Austria signed a petition in favour of blessing same-sex couples.

"I can not understand why, at this point, people are getting to the view to say this kind of love is sin," Olding said. "I do not get it."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview with Christian Olding produced by Ryan Chatterjee.

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