This is shocking, but not surprising:

The president of the German Bishops’ Conference has declared that, in his view, Catholic priests can conduct blessing ceremonies for homosexual couples.

Cardinal Reinhard Marx told the Bavarian State Broadcasting’s radio service that “there can be no rules” about this question. Rather, the decision of whether a homosexual union should receive the Church’s blessing should be up to “a priest or pastoral worker” and made in each individual case, the German prelate stated.

Speaking on Feb. 3, on the occasion of his 10th anniversary as Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Marx was asked why “the Church does not always move forward when it comes to demands from some Catholics about, for instance, the ordination of female deacons, the blessing of homosexual couples, or the abolition of compulsory [priestly] celibacy.”

Marx said that, for him, the important question to be asked regards how “the Church can meet the challenges posed by the new circumstances of life today – but also by new insights, of course,” particularly concerning pastoral care.

Now, we must be careful. A German reader says that the Cardinal’s actual wording is more ambiguous than the news report indicates. (Listen to the radio interview in German here.) The reader says that Father Dwight Longenecker is correct in his analysis: that it is possible that the cardinal’s words were distorted by the media, but this is the cardinal’s fault for avoiding clarity. Confusion is the result here — and I doubt that is accidental.

One has to consider Cardinal Marx’s words in light of his past statements on homosexual relations (including here and here.) In the first, the cardinal calls for a reshaping of the Catholic Church’s views on marriage and family, including homosexual coupling, but stops short of endorsing gay couples. In the second, the cardinal says that marriage must be seen as between one man and one woman, but that he can see no reason why the Church should oppose the State granting marriage rights to same-sex couples. My point is, Marx has marched right up to the line in the past, but has not crossed it.

Has he crossed it with this new interview? Vatican Radio, reporting on the same interview, characterizes Cdl Marx’s words as saying “no” to a general change of Church policy, but “yes” to the possibility that an individual priest in particular situations could choose to bless gay unions. If official Vatican Radio believes the Cardinal has approved of the possibility of blessing same-sex unions in Germany, that is fairly definitive. If Cardinal Marx does not believe this, then he must clarify as soon as possible.

Not that last month, the vice president of the German bishops’ conference reportedly did go further:

Bishop Bode asks, with reference to homosexual couples, “how do we do justice to them?” and adds: “how do we accompany them pastorally and liturgically?” Moreover, the German prelate – who had been one of the representatives of the German bishops at the Synod of Bishops on marriage and the family – proposes to reconsider the Church’s stance on active homosexual relationships which are regarded as gravely sinful. “We have to reflect upon the question as to how to assess in a differentiated manner a relationship between two homosexual persons,” he says. “Is there not so much positive and good and right so that we have to be more just?”

 

… Bishop Bode had raised such a discussion already earlier, in 2015, when he proposed “private blessings” for homosexual couples, and claimed that “remarried” divorcees “perhaps corresponds in a better way than the first [relationship] to the Covenant of God with men.” Bode then wondered whether such new relationships “always have to have as a consequence the exclusion from [the Sacraments of] Confession and Communion.”

What will Pope Francis’s reaction be? Cardinal Marx and the German bishops have been his strong allies in trying to liberalize the Catholic Church’s views of marriage and divorce. Are they now going to push for de facto acceptance of homosexual partnerships? If so, how can the Catholic Church declare something to be a mortal sin that it also sanctifies through blessing? It makes no sense.

If so, and if the pope approves of this move by Cardinal Marx, I don’t see how the Catholics avoid schism. If the pope avoids taking a stand … well, how can he? Whether or not Cardinal Marx has been misinterpreted here, it seems clear to me that Francis cannot avoid clarifying this issue. Well, on second thought, yes, he can; he has done so with the dubia.

Replying to Bishop Bode’s remarks, the conservative Catholic German blogger Mathias von Gersdorff wrote (Google’s translation):

Catholics should be prepared for a few things: The German Progressive does not want here and there a couple of changes, but to completely crush Catholic doctrine and basically fabricate a new religion. Bishop Bode’s latest comments could usher in a new phase of destruction. The “normal” Catholic remains perplexed and wonders: How far can the Catholic Church in Germany advance this path of destruction and still be called “Catholic”? When does the denial of church tax even become a moral duty?

German Catholics must pay a “church tax” that is cycled through the state apparatus and funds the activities of the Catholic Church in Germany. Von Gersdorff raises the question of whether or not faithful German Catholics should refuse to pay the church tax in protest of episcopal heresies. The German bishops have said in the past — and the state courts have upheld them — that any German Catholic who refuses to pay the church tax would be excommunicated. 

What a terrible position for faithful German Catholics! Von Gersdorff regards Cardinal Marx’s equivocating interview as a “fig leaf” hiding what he believes is the German bishops’ real desires. Excerpt as translated by Google:

For Cardinal Marx and for Bishop Bode it is clear: Catholic sexual morality must adapt to the Sexual Revolution. The above-mentioned proposals of these two prelates and those from German Progressivism can be summarized as follows:  Catholic sexual morality must be replaced by the maxims of the Sexual Revolution. In concrete terms, this means that there are no inherently morally wrong sexual acts, desires, ideas. Everything is allowed (as long as no violence is used against third parties). Of course you do not say that so directly, but you can not interpret the omissions of German progressivism differently. When did you last hear a suggestion that requires more discipline, abstinence, chastity, decency in fashions etc. etc.

The mission statement of Bishop Bode, of Cardinal Marx and of German Progressivism in general is the Sexual Revolution according to the maxims of the 1968 revolution. How this argument will end is still uncertain. Above all, the question arises of how strong the resistance in the church people will be against this destructive work. However, one thing must be prepared for one thing: the Catholic Church in Germany faces turbulent times.

Yes, and I am glad that a German translation of The Benedict Option is going to be published later this year.

The conservative Catholic website OnePeterFive has more information on Cardinal Marx’s words, and the direction of the German Catholic bishops:

In the wake of these prominent and high-ranking encouragements with respect to homosexual couples, a German diocese now proposes  even more concrete steps for the establishment of an official liturgical blessing for homosexual couples. With the explicit encouragement of the Bishop of the Diocese of Limburg, Johannes zu Eltz — a high-ranking priest, canon, and Dean of the City of Frankfurt (with a responsibility for around 150,000 souls) — has now made a public proposal to have a “theologically justified blessing” for those couples who are either homosexual, “remarried,” or who for other reasons do not feel “sufficiently worthy” for the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Zu Eltz now proposes a “liturgical celebration” that “omits the exchange of rings or the utterance of a marital vow.” Rather, one could, “with respect for a reliable partnership,” ask for God’s blessing “for a successful future of something that already exists.”

The issues around homosexuality have moved through the Christian churches of the West like a hot knife through butter. There is no escaping it, no place to hide. Already within American Orthodox Christianity prominent voices arise to promote liberalization on the issue. Today in Orthodox churches we heard this reading from the sixth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

12 All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

13 Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

14 And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!

16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”

17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.

19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

There is no getting around this, unless you deny it flat-out. Which is what liberal churches and liberalizing church people want to do. At some point this becomes a new religion. Watch Germany: if parish priests begin to bless same-sex unions, and bishops accept this — including the Bishop of Rome — then the situation will be much clearer, I’m afraid.

I have noticed a new series of attacks on The Benedict Option from higher levels of the Catholic Church. There was recently the review in the authoritative Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica, in which the writer accused me of moral rigorism that flirts with the Donatist heresy (my response was here). Last week, Cardinal Blase Cupich, the quite liberal Archbishop of Chicago, denounced the Benedict Option:

Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich refuted the so-called “Benedict Option” that calls for retreat from the modern world, and instead urged Catholics to engage with the world through a “consistent ethic of solidarity” that addresses a wide range of issues.

“That’s not who we are,” Cupich said of the “Benedict Option,” which takes its name from a book that calls for a conservative counterculture. He was responding to a question at a public talk Feb. 1 at Holy Name Cathedral here.

Instead, Cupich said, Catholics should go out and engage the world, much like Jesus’ disciples after Pentecost, or those who fought Hitler in World War II.

“We have to be in the trenches,” Cupich said, but Americans “are risk-adverse … to take up big problems.”

Today, Bernd Hagenkord, the Jesuit priest in charge of Radio Vatican’s German language broadcasting, also denounced the Ben Op in a blog post on Radio Vatican’s website. It reads as follows, in Google’s translation from German, slightly polished by me:

“That’s not what we stand for”: Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, was very clear in a speech at a demo for Life. He specifically opposed The Benedict Option, a book that speaks for a Catholic counterculture.

Wait a minute, Benedict Option? For example: detachment from the world? No, not at all. Benedict is in this case Benedict of Nursia, the monastery founder and monk. The book has the thesis that it takes a turning away from the morally decadent world in order to live a Christian life.

And Cardinal Cupich is against it. Thank you, Cardinal Cupich. Apart from the very simple insight that such a counterculture is exactly the opposite of what Jesus’ commission entrusts, the book’s adoption is based on a popular but false myth: namely, that Benedict turned away from the moral decadence of the Romans which ultimately led to the downfall of the Roman Empire.

The thesis is old but wrong. Cultural critics cannot leave it; it is just too seductive. Amusingly, it is based on the English historian Edward Gibbon, who claimed it is precisely Christianity that weakened the Roman Empire. This decadence thesis is a modification.

The fall of the Roman Empire had many causes, and was the result of a development that cannot be traced back to a particular reason. Especially not on the alleged moral decadence.

I have to interject here and say that The Benedict Option makes no claims for why the Roman Empire in the West collapsed. And it is certainly the case that St. Benedict withdrew from the city of Rome for moral reasons. As we know from St. Gregory the Great’s life of St. Benedict, who learned these things by interviewing four disciples of St. Benedict:

He was born in the province of Nursia, of honorable parentage, and brought up at Rome in the study of humanity. As much as he saw many by reason of such learning fall to dissolute and lewd life, he drew back his foot, which he had as it were now set forth into the world, lest, entering too far in acquaintance with it, he likewise might have fallen into that dangerous and godless gulf.

Therefore, giving over his book, and forsaking his father’s house and wealth, with a resolute mind only to serve God, he sought for some place, where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose. In this way he departed, instructed with learned ignorance, and furnished with unlearned wisdom.

Back to our Jesuit friend’s blog post:

And that’s why the withdrawal of Benedict had other reasons. And that’s why he’s not the godfather of an option that is campaigning to turn away from the world. Ask any Benedictine, or even better a missionary Benedictine: to live in the monastery does not mean to part with the world.

I would even say that the so-called Benedict Option is ultimately nothing but resignation. It is not a positive, not a creative response to the call of Christ in our time, but an attempt to save what can be saved because somehow you cannot cope with the challenges of today. And resignation does not seem to me to be a Christian virtue.

Why am I saying this? Does this matter at all? Perhaps not in the exaggerated logic of reasoning of the author of the book about the alleged “Benedict Option”. But looking down on the world, which wants to separate itself from alleged anti-christian currents, the complaints about the world which presuppose an inner separation, are everywhere. By contrast, Cardinal Cupich sets the commitment. And not only him. And that’s good.

That’s it. If either Cardinal Cupich or Father Hagenkord has read The Benedict Option, I’ll eat a pair of lederhosen. At this point, I hardly need to go into detail about how they argue in bad faith. The Benedict Option concept is not what they say it is; rather, it is about why Catholics (and Orthodox Christians, and Protestants) who want to keep the faith resiliently in the post-Christian — indeed, increasingly anti-Christian — West must withdraw to a certain extent from the mainstream for the sake of strengthening our faith, so that when we do engage with the world — as we must — we can do so as serious Christians.

What’s interesting is to consider why all of a sudden it has attracted the critical attention of very prominent liberal Catholics. Why do they consider the Ben Op to be so threatening? After all, what Catholic readers in particular should take from my book is that they should be more faithful Catholics: pray more, read more Scripture, take up fasting, go to confession more often, study the Catechism, reflect deeply on the Church’s teachings and traditions, and so forth. Why is that offensive to these liberal churchmen?

Could it be that if Catholics do these things, they will quickly observe that the direction in which these liberals are trying to lead the Catholic Church is far away from Catholic truth? The best way to get contemporary Catholics to abandon Catholic orthodoxy is to discourage them from deep engagement with Catholic teaching and tradition, and to think hard about how being faithful puts one at odds with the modern world. Which is why these Church liberals are so willing to distort its message to attack it.

I would say one of the best reasons (but not the only reason!) for Catholics to read The Benedict Option is to prepare for keeping and passing on the faith in a Church dominated by such bishops, priests, and lay leaders. The time of trial is upon all Christians, and it will only get more severe. Prepare!

UPDATE: A reader posts in the comments section an online exchange in which Father Hagenkord admits that he has not read my book, only “parts” of it, but that was enough for him, he said, to grasp its argument. Which he goes on to misstate severely. Where is the integrity of these critics?