Germany's Catholic bishops are pressing ahead with reform of a controversial Church labor law that would allow employees who are in homosexual relationships or those divorced and civilly remarried to work in Church-run institutions.
The bishops were to unanimously vote in favor of change on Nov. 24, but decided to postpone the decision until April after a minority of conservative bishops resisted the move. They were also impeded by a federal court ruling that ironically supported the Church's current laws that forbid employing staff whose lifestyles run contrary to Church teaching.
Until now, those seeking employment in the German Church – the second largest employer in the country – are required to adhere to lifestyles consistent with Church teaching.
But a majority of bishops, led by the president of the episcopal conference, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, were expected to vote in favor of the changes this week which would have given the green light for such employees to continue to work 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 it is eventually 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 admitted if the Church is to continue functioning and offering the services people need.
However, opponents say 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. In a bid to facilitate change, Cardinal Marx asserted at Monday's meeting that homosexuals and the divorced and civilly remarried who are already employed by the Church are not "automatically dismissed."
Critics of the reform say 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, critics say, 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. They say it would send the message that the Church doesn't care about the background of new employees and how they live, so essentially everyone can be employed.
The proposed changes, allegedly being spearheaded by Jesuit Father Hans Langendörfer, Secretary of the German Bishops’ Conference, have been considered in secret for at least the past 18 months, according to sources. “It’s like a hidden bombshell," one informed source close to the German Church said, adding that the language they will also use will be purposefully vague and therefore open to interpretation. 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.”
Church commentators say the proposed law is expected to eventually achieve the requisite two-thirds majority as only a few conservative bishops are obstructing it.
Proponents of change were wrong-footed last week when Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled that a Catholic hospital in Düsseldorf had the right to dismiss a senior doctor who was divorced and remarried.
The judges overturned a prior judgment of the Federal Labor Court which had declared the dismissal of the doctor invalid. The constitutional court ruled that the labor court had not “sufficiently taken into account” the meaning and scope of the Church’s autonomy.
German bishops have publicly welcomed the constitutional court’s ruling, but played it down and are expected to spin their new law as “more merciful”. The court ruling has shown, however, the country's judges to be arguably more Catholic (even though some are not Catholic) than many of the country’s bishops.
The timing of the ruling is also interesting as many of the bishops hoped the court would have given the ruling after they had met and decided on the new changes to the Church’s labor law.
The motives behind the court’s decision are said to be a willingness among Germany’s judiciary to uphold religious freedom in the face of Islamist threats and riots in Germany involving supporters of the Islamic State militant group. Realizing the Islamist threat is increasing, they have reportedly opted for a way that strengthens the Church and religious freedom. The ruling also follows a similar decision taken in June this year by the European Court of Human Rights to uphold Church autonomy.
If the German Church goes ahead with its proposed adaptation to labor law, it will be just the latest in a series of efforts on the part of the German Church to accommodate the Church’s teaching to secularist trends.
Cardinal Marx told reporters during the synod on the family last month that a strong majority of German bishops supported Cardinal Walter Kasper’s proposal to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion.
“They’re trying to change doctrine through these subtle means,” a source in the German Church told Breitbart, adding that exposing their tactics is "important" ahead of next year's Synod on the Family to take place at the Vatican next October.
This general attitude of many of Germany’s bishops also runs contrary to what Benedict XVI said during his famous “Entweltlichung” speech when visiting his homeland in 2011. In that address, the former pontiff called on the German Church to detach herself from worldliness or face having her roots withered away.