Cardinal Moelki: What He Said, In Context.

Yesterday, I pointed out that on the basis of my limited German, I believed that Cardinal Moelki had been misreported. I didn’t think he had said the Church should change teaching, but just that it could. I promised to find and publish a better translation.

Thanks to Daniel Silliman, who teaches American Religion at the University of Heidelberg and is well placed to judge the matter, I was right in my assessment of the mistranslation. Here’s the relevant passage, again, in translation from the report by Deutche Presse-Agentur, the largest German news organization:

 The Berlin Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki considers it possible that the Catholic Church will soften its strict position against gays and lesbians in the long term …. It is conceivable that the criteriawill be refined. He considers it is imaginable that, “where peopletake responsibility for each other, where they live and practice a longterm/permanent  homosexual relationship, that that is to be regarded in a similar way as a heterosexual relationship,” Woelkisaid on Thursday at the Catholic Congress in Mannheim.
However, no one can expect a quick change of heart from the Church on this question. There will be no quick fixes, such a process could take a long time. Above all, this would not change it, that the marriage between man and woman for the Catholic church has a special rank, emphasized Woelki).

Silliman has done much more though than simply provide a more reliable translation. He’s also provided some context for the words. The specific context of the Cardinal’s words, which were in response to a challenge by a Jesuit priest, Father Klaus Mertes,  who exposed the German church’s cover-up of years of sexual abuse of children.

At Katholikentag, a major annual conference of Catholics in Mannheim, the Jesuit priest was able to facilitate a dialogue between Woelki and lay Catholics concerned about the direction of their church. This in itself was significant. Perhaps because of previous statements Woelki has made about how homosexuality goes against the “order of creation,” Mertes took the opportunity to challenge Woelki to “Hören Sie sich die Geschichte des Leidens an, die Lesben und Schwule in den christlichen Kirchen machen.” (Listen to the history of the suffering of the lesbians and gays in the Christian churches).

Daniel Silliman

The broader context, also provided in Spillman’s post, is of the history of the sexual abuse cover-ups, and of Cardinal Moelki’s earlier history of denigrating gay and lesbian sexuality.  So in addition to a more accurate translation which reduces the significance of the reported words, we have to consider the context – which almost reverses their significance, from one that holds out the prospect of change, to one that does not do much more than reinforce the traditional teaching on the special place of marriage between a man and a woman.

But perhaps there’s an even bigger context of importance here: the remarkable way in which Catholic clergy and laity in Germany, and elsewhere, are standing up to the bishops, calling them out for their hypocrisy and insisting that it is they (the bishops) and not the rest of us, who need re-evangelising.

See, for example, the headline and lead in paragraph to the report in Die Welt  on the Katholikentag:

In German:

Der Mut der Bischöfe ist ein eigen Ding

Auf dem Katholikentag in Mannheim üben Politiker und Laien heftige Kritik am deutschen Klerus

and in English (Google translation)

The courage of the bishops is a strange thing

At the Katholikentag in Mannheim, politicians and lay people strongly criticized the German clergy

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