One of the three German bishops who will attend next month’s Synod of Bishops on the Family has proposed that the Catholic Church might offer “private blessings” to same-sex couples.
Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck said it was possible to see strengths as well as weaknesses in both gay relationships and in those of cohabiting heterosexuals.
He said that the Catholic Church could not accept gay marriage because it understood marriage as a union between a husband and a wife that was open to the procreation of children.
But the bishop said that since the Church was bound not to discriminate against homosexuals by the Catechism of the Catholic Church it should do more to support those who were in stable unions.
He said: “With prayer and a private form of blessing you will be able to accompany their way.”
His comments were made in an interview with KNA, a German Catholic news agency with close ties to the German bishops’ conference.
In the same interview Bishop Bode also raised the prospect of allowing Catholics who have divorced and remarried access to the Blessed Sacrament even if they have not repented and changed their way of life.
Divorced people can “come to a new relationship which is more mature than the first, but which does not have the same sacramental value”, the bishop said, before asking if “this new reality – which perhaps corresponds in a better way than the first to the Covenant of God with men – always has to have as a consequence the exclusion from Confession and Communion”.
Bishop Bode is one of three German prelates elected by the German bishops to serve at the synod that runs from October 4 to October 25. The other two are Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising and Archbishop Heiner Koch of Berlin.
Another German, Cardinal Walter Kasper, who has been strident in pushing for liberalising reforms to the rules on the reception of Communion for the divorced and remarried, will be attending at the invitation of Pope Francis.
The remarks of Bishop Bode will fuel suspicions that the forthcoming ordinary synod will be just as controversial as the first “extraordinary” synod on the family last year.
This was marked by clashes between reforming and conservative factions and by allegations that its proceedings were manipulated.
Mr Pentin predicted that the forthcoming synod at the Vatican could witness “subtle attempts to circumvent Church teaching”.
He said that unnamed key leaders were planning to impose “an agenda to emphasise ‘innovative’ pastoral practice that many others see as being at odds with the Church’s doctrine”.
Mr Pentin added: “Notwithstanding Pope Francis’s wishes for an open discussion yielding a well-grounded unity, the next synod may result in even more confusion and dissension.”
Anxieties over the possible direction of the synod surfaced earlier this year when more than 450 priests signed a letter to the Catholic Herald in which they called on synod fathers to retain the prohibition on divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion.
“We wish, as Catholic priests, to restate our unwavering fidelity to the traditional doctrines regarding marriage and the true meaning of human sexuality, founded on the word of God and taught by the Church’s Magisterium for two millennia,” the priests wrote.
“We commit ourselves anew to the task of presenting this teaching in all its fullness, while reaching out with the Lord’s compassion to those struggling to respond to the demands and challenges of the Gospel in an increasingly secular society,” the letter continued.
“Furthermore we affirm the importance of upholding the Church’s traditional discipline regarding the reception of the sacraments, and that doctrine and practice remain firmly and inseparably in harmony,” the letter added.
The priests concluded their letter by urging all participants of the synod to “make a clear and firm proclamation of the Church’s unchanging moral teaching, so that confusion may be removed, and faith confirmed”.
Signatories included parish priests, members of religious orders and prominent theologians such as Dominican Fr Aidan Nichols and Fr John Saward.
But it earned them a rebuke from Cardinal Vincent Nichols, one of two synod fathers from England and Wales, who told them that such a dialogue should be between “a priest and his bishop” and that it was “not best conducted through the press”.