By Anli Serfontein | Catholic News Service
BERLIN (CNS) — More than 100 Catholic Church employees, including priests and religious educators, publicly identified themselves as part of the LGBTQ community in a documentary broadcast on German television.
The documentary, “How God Created Us: Coming Out in the Catholic Church,” aired Jan. 24 as part of an initiative titled “#OutInChurch — For a church without fear” in which 125 individuals called for the end of discrimination in church labor laws.
The initiative brings together lesbian, gay, bisexual, nonbinary, queer and transsexual people who work in the church and say they are discriminated against because of their sexuality and gender identity in their employment contracts.
“I would like to be part of the change,” Jesuit Father Ralf Klein of St. Blasien Parish in the Black Forest region of Germany said in the film.
All employees who are part of the project risk losing their jobs. Some had their faces hidden in photos on the initiative’s website.
“In our employment contracts, the ecclesiastical employment law is declared to be valid. The possibility of dismissal hovers over all employees like a sword of Damocles,” Father Klein said.
Theologian Monika Schmelter and Catholic religion teacher Marie Kortenbusch, from Lüdinghausen in North Rhine-Westphalia, spoke in the film about how stressful it was to hide their 40-year relationship from colleagues and create a parallel world about how they spent holidays and private time. Even in retirement, Kortenbusch feared her pension could be scrapped after the couple married in 2020.
Thomas Schüller, a church canon lawyer, said that church labor law could be changed by the German bishops without the Vatican having to agree.
The documentary shows how in November, Father Klein openly blessed same-sex couples in his parish. His action came eight months after the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a decree signed off by Pope Francis banning priests from blessing same-sex unions.
The filmmakers said they wrote to all 27 German bishops asking them to appear in the film. Only one, Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen, agreed to be interviewed saying he welcomed the movement in the “name from the German bishops’ conference as a sign that we are working to ensure that such a climate of fear and freedom no longer prevail in our church.”
Bishop Dieser co-chairs one of the working groups in the German church’s Synodal Path reform project. That particular working group is set to table texts on “Magisterial reassessment of homosexuality” and “Blessing for couples who love each other” at the third Synodal Path Assembly Feb. 3-5.
A joint statement Jan. 24 from the Central Committee of German Catholics and 22 other Catholic organizations said, “The Catholic Church is as diverse as society itself and home to everyone. No one should be discriminated against or excluded because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”