In a recent communique to the members of the diocesan council, Bishop Gebhard Fürst of Rottenburg-Stuttgart presented his reasons for not allowing the blessing of a same-sex couple in a church in his diocese. It is a clear explanation, balancing doctrine and pastoral care, and a welcome one in the wake of much debate and harsh words against the bishop for his decision. At the same time, it highlights the problems the Church identifies, not only with regard to same-sex marriages, but also artificial insemination, surrogate motherhood, and the adoption of children. These problems, as Bishop Fürst illustrates, are for a large part about the rights of all persons:
“Dear members of the diocesan council!
Because of certain developments, I want to express myself on a topic which has especially occupied and haunted the heart, minds and tempers of many people in the past week.
You have been able to read and hear that I did not meet the expectations of a homosexual couple, living as registered partners, for a Church ceremony. My decision was preceded by a written correspondence with one of the persons concerned, Mr. Kaufmann. In a letter I explained to him why I can not agree to a Church celebration to bless the relationship of him and his partner.
I wrote to him that a Church ceremony for same-sex couples is not possible and also gave the reasons for this. “Ceremonies of blessings are not just private actions, but they are also an action of the Church, which is committed to the Christian image of man. Ceremonies in relation to same-sex partnerships can therefore not be celebrated. Als because such celebrations can give the impression of being “quasi-sacramental”” (cf. German Bishops’ Conference, Protocol of 25/26 November 2002, N. 7). This does not exclude, but rather implies that pastoral guidance is always and in all cases possible and that every discrimination of the persons concerned must be avoided.
You know that I was strongly attacked and rebuked in the public media. I had anticipated this beforehand and expressed my decision with this knowledge and will not change my position as bishop in retrospect because of violent attacks. With this position, I am aware of the collegial unity with my brothers of the German Bishops’ Conference.
The argument of the confusability of a Church blessing with a wedding or Church marriage has been proven to be correct in hindsight. Many media have spoken about a church wedding in the Lutheran Schlosskirche in Stuttgart. The visual appearance of the celebration, the photo of the exchange of rings and some other elements have created this impression.
The referendum in Ireland in favour of gay marriage has given a new dimension to the debate on same-sex unions.
The “Ehe für alle” movement and some state governments are aiming for the full equality of registered partnerships with “Marriage and family”, which is under special protection by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany.
I acknowledge that, in a pluralistic and secular society a way of life of a registered partnership guaranteed by the state can exist, and that this must have protection and rights. Of course not all citizens of free democratic society can be obliged to hold to the Christian image of man, which includes an unambiguous and clear image of marriage and family as a union of man and women with an openness to children. Yet I have to wonder if the state does not also and especially have the duty to especially protect the cultural heritage of western Christian tradition, from which it itself comes and in which a society marked by human dignity and human rights has its roots. Part of this heritage is a prominent place for marriage and family as the nucleus of society and guarantee for the future of society.
I reject, however, a complete equality of registered partnerships of man-man and woman-woman with marriage and family. Dissimilar things can not simply be treated as completely similar. I know of no communities or groups of people in recent history which have ever created an institution for man-man or woman-woman, let alone one with the name marriage.
This is especially pertinent for the right of adoption. Here I see a compromise of the child’s best interests. I am convinced that the bipolarity of the sexes of man and woman, which indeed alone can bring forth human life and without which no child can be conceived, is also good and necessary for the upbringing and development of children after their birth.
Today the technology of reproduction makes a new form of “adoption” possible: through donating eggs and sperm, through the means of In vitro fertilisation and through surrogate motherhood it is possible that two gay men can have a child produced and buy it. I highly recommend reading the article in the Frankfurter Algemeine: “Your twins belong to me” of 4 April 2015, s. 9. This article has the subtitle: “When men access the surrogate motherhood flat rate: in many countries the baby market for homosexuals is booming. The risks for women are lost in the propaganda battle.” For reasons of time I can’t tell you in detail how many human embryos are selected and killed with this method, how many tens of thousands of dollars or euros in costs are paid, and how the selected, often surrogate mothers living in deepest poverty and illiteracy, are objectified, disenfranchised and discriminated. I can tell you much which would disconcert you from my own knowledge of biotechnology and my own experience, for example in California, in the largest IV fertilisation clinic in the United States, where I spoke for two hours with the team of doctors and nurses of the IV department.
The FAZ article I mentioned above concludes its with the sentence, regarding the reproduction industry which is emerging in the baby business and the discrimination of surrogate mothers: “A group, which itself is suffering under the deprivation of rights would do well to consider carefully how far it is willing to go for a child,” ie. if it is justifiable for them to discriminate women and selecting human embryos.
In conclusion I want to say: Registered partnerships must be acknowledged by all in society and can not be discriminated against. I reject a Church ceremony of blessing. I likewise reject “gay marriage”, the “marriage for all”. The wellbeing of children has clear priority over the wishes of registered partners. I consider the fulfillment of a desire for children of homosexual registered partners through in vitro fertilisation and surrogate mothers unconscionable.
It remains the difficult task of us, the Church to fight discrimination in this context and respect and support the dignity of every person.”
It is often held against the German bishops as a whole that they are solely concerned with the pastoral care and not so much with doctrine. Bt the Church needs both. Bishop Fürst makes use of both in this text, as he presents the facts of the doctrine about marriage and family, while also underlining the pastoral needs of those who can not or do not succeed in achieving what the faith asks. This is the way forward, in my opinion. We can’t choose between doctrine and pastoral care, but we need both.