Many grandees of the Catholic Church in Europe are falling in with the Rainbow Reich. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg is president of the Church’s partner to the E.U. bureaucracy, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union. In a recent interview with Germany's Catholic News Agency, he asserted that the Church’s current teaching about homosexual acts is “false.”
Hollerich adverts to tendentious historical “scholarship” introduced by John Boswell in 1980 and popularized by William Countryman in the 1990s. This work purports to show that New Testament condemnations of homosexuality concern only its role in pagan cults and do not rise to the level of moral teaching. Moreover, Hollerich continues, the world has changed: “We cannot give the answers of the past to the questions of tomorrow.”
The trend in Europe is not good. More than two years ago, the German Church embarked on the “Synodal Way,” a legislative process of bishops, clergy, and lay representatives. The branding epitomizes the corruptions of late modern Catholicism. It highlights one of the Francis pontificate's favorite words: “synodality,” an ersatz theological term invented to serve as a placeholder for the secular trinity of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In this way, German progressives position themselves as servants of the pope while endeavoring to radically revise Catholic doctrine and practice.
Last year, those journeying on the “Way” endorsed blessings for same-sex marriages, as well as for unmarried couples. More recently, the pious legislators of the German Church’s future called for the ordination of married men. They also voted to endorse the ordination of women to the diaconate.
The “Way” in Germany is not driven by lay activists, but by those at the top of the hierarchy. Cardinal Reinhard Marx in Munich recently told reporters that “It would be better for everyone to create the possibility of celibate and married priests.”
First Things founder Fr. Richard John Neuhaus often observed that where orthodoxy becomes optional, orthodoxy will soon be prohibited. Patrons of inclusion quickly become policemen of the new political correctness.
Cardinal Hollerich has a different argument for proscription. He deems the current teaching on homosexual acts false because “the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching is no longer correct.” We know so much more today, and the Church must keep up, “Otherwise, we lose contact and can no more be understood.” Under such circumstances, recalcitrant Catholics who are not willing to update their moral teaching and “follow the science” are dead weights. They impair the Church’s ability to “relate” to modern man—er, modern persons.
Whether the officious denunciation of those who “deny history,” or the more direct censure of those who “hate,” we can be sure that Cardinal Hollerich and his allies will be ruthless in suppressing dissent. The “future” is a jealous god. And recent events suggest that Hollerich is maneuvering to use the clerical abuse scandal to destroy Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Cologne, the highest-ranking and most powerful advocate for the apostolic tradition in the German Catholic Church.
Count me unsurprised. Christianity in the modern West has always been tempted by alliances with bourgeois culture, with the sensibilities and attitudes of well-to-do and respectable people rather than the truths of the gospel. Karl Barth was horrified when at the outset of World War I, his teachers, the Great and Good of German Protestantism, lined up in support of the nationalism considered “the direction of history” in those years.
In my years as an Episcopalian, I watched as church leaders adjusted to elite opinion, always careful to stay on the “right side of history.” In those years, that meant affirming the sexual revolution, especially homosexuality. Doctrine changes, but the Episcopal Church’s social role remained constant: to be the chaplaincy for white upper-middle-class culture.
Today, the German Catholic Church is doing something similar, serving as a chaplaincy for the Rainbow Reich—the empire of diversity, equity, and inclusion that flies the rainbow flag. Sociologically, this probably makes sense. German churches are emptying, and without a flock, what other role can the vast apparatus of German Catholicism play?
Meanwhile, in Rome, the present pope fiddles.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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