Cardinal Woelki of Berlin (now transferred to Cologne) has been under fire for his favorable comments on respecting same-sex couples. Personally, I wish he’d be more careful about his comments, but they don’t seem to be as liberal as his critics suggest.

Here’s my casual translation of comments made in an August 2012 interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper.

The reporter gets into sensitive territory by suggesting that the cardinal has his own “Woelki method”: keeping Catholic teaching untouched while giving practical signs that anything is possible.

Q. Under the “Woelki method”, we’re thinking of your statements at the Mannheim Catholic convention about recognition for homosexual couples. Aren’t you thereby taking a broad perspective on the teaching of the Catholic Church that lived homosexuality contradicts the Creator’s plan?

 

CARDINAL WOELKI: Wherever people are there for each other, that deserves recognition. With adult children who care for their parents, this is obvious. So when same-sex partners show a comparable degree of care, we can’t deny them respect for it. I recently heard of a young couple, in which one partner took care of the other in a serious illness and accompanied him to the point of death. That is humanly valuable and worth recognizing.

 

Q: How could this recognition be shown? For example, what possibility is there for openly living homosexual Catholics to be involved in parish councils?

 

CARDINAL: The Church’s Magisterium has repeatedly clearly and unmistakably established that homosexual acts “are intrinsically disordered”, contradict natural law, and therefore cannot be condoned by our conviction of the faith. Obviously I am not striking out a line of that.

 

Q: But then what does that mean?
(Woelki takes a long pause and reflects)

Q: Is the question crossing your mind now whether it would hurt things, if we insist so much on this point, or if you might lean even farther out the window if possible?

 

CARDINAL: For a fact, my words in Mannheim already immediately brought forth criticism. Not to overlook the “Internet Magisterium” with its usual polemical attacks, which, directed against a cardinal, come out even more embittered than they were before, if possible. But further polarization will not get us anywhere, for sure.

 

Q: Federal policy is close to doing what you called for in Mannheim – more recognition for same-sex couples through a better position in tax law.

 

CARDINAL: The secular state has the option to order such things for its citizens. This is clear: for us as the Catholic Church it is marriage of man and woman, open to children, the ideal of living together and also the model we support. Also in the Basic Law [the German Federal Constitution] marriage and family stand under special state protection as a natural basic unit of society (and also in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Overall, it sounds like the bishop’s method is close to what the reporter thought: the bishop enunciates Catholic teaching clearly as applying to intra-Church matters; but he is unspecific about what society and the state should do. There is Catholic teaching against unjust discrimination toward homosexual persons, and perhaps the bishop is only calling for observance of that. But he gave no guidance about where the state should restrain itself in granting status to same-sex couples.