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#OutInChurch - For a church without fear

The biggest coming-out in the history of the Catholic Church - Rainer Teuber    (April 2024)

On 24 January 2022, not only the Catholic Church but also a large part of German society was awakened with a bang: after almost a year of intensive preparations, 125 employees of the Catholic Church came out as non-heterosexual (queer), for example as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersexual (LGBTIQ+), with their #OutInChurch initiative.

At the same time, the ARD documentary "As God created us - Coming out in the Catholic Church" impressively revealed the experiences of discrimination of 100 queer people in the service of the Catholic Church.


Queer AND Catholic - taking stock

Until now, many queer people have not been able to deal openly with their gender identity and/or sexual orientation in their church profession or environment. Consequences under labour law can go as far as destroying their professional livelihood. Quite a few queer people are familiar with situations in which bishops, vicars general or other leaders in the service of the church have asked them, in some cases even forced them, to keep their sexual orientation and/or gender identity secret. Only then is it possible to remain in the service of the church. Such a system of exercising power, concealment, double standards and dishonesty is toxic, it shames and makes (not only) queer people ill. Last but not least, the personal relationship with God and one's own spirituality are impaired, even damaged.

Many protect individuals

The strategic goal of the two projects mentioned at the beginning, "#OutInChurch" and "As God created us", was to expose these abuses; a secondary condition was to protect individuals by making them public. The latter was successful: due to the relatively high number of participants, there have been no legal consequences to date. The already strong public pressure on the Catholic Church for many other reasons was increased once again and implicitly called on its representatives to take a stand. Since then, some bishops and vicars general have outdone themselves with words of thanks and expressions of solidarity, often unfortunately with little specificity. Others, however, have remained completely silent to this day. However, the dioceses of Würzburg and Essen, among others, have shown how it can be done: they have agreed to suspend the church's basic order - i.e. the labour law framework for employees of the Catholic Church - for non-heterosexual partnerships and civil marriages that are practised in public.

What does #OutInChurch stand for?

The #OutInChurch initiative does not stand outside the Catholic Church: the "In" is a central part of its hashtag. Among other things, #OutInChurch demands: Queer people should be able to live and work in their church without fear after coming out. This is by no means a matter of course: all church fields of activity must be open to them without discrimination. This requires a change in church labour law. Until now, living a life based on one's own sexual orientation and gender identity - especially in the form of a partnership or civil marriage - has been a breach of loyalty. The ever-present threat of dismissal must come to an end. Defamatory statements of church doctrine on gender and sexuality that have long been outdated by theology and human science must be corrected. The Catholic Church must not deny LGBTIQ+ people and couples the blessing of God or access to the sacraments.

The manifesto and core demands of the initiative have been published in fourteen languages at There, everyone has the opportunity to show solidarity by signing an online petition.


What has happened since then

The (inter)national media response was and is immense - the #OutInChurch press team still receives interview requests from all over Europe, the USA, Canada, South America and Australia. At least as important are reactions on the ground, i.e. in the communities and parishes, for example in the form of invitations to student talks or discussion evenings in church lay organisations. And: the voting results of the 3rd Synodal Assembly in February 2022 provide a clear mandate for action in the areas of "sexual morality" and "gender justice": implement long overdue reforms, and do so now.

At the beginning of March 2022, the Spring General Assembly of the German Bishops' Conference met in the Upper Franconian pilgrimage site of Vierzehnheiligen. Participants from #OutInChurch handed over a petition on the demands of their initiative with 117,650 signatures to the Bishop of Limburg and Chairman of the German Bishops' Conference, Dr Georg Bätzing. In a personal meeting with him, he promised, among other things, to revise the church's constitution by the end of 2022. The initiative will continue to campaign and campaign for the full implementation of its demands.


And now? - Synodal Path and German Bishops' Conference

The launch of the #OutInChurch campaign and the broadcast of the documentary "As God created us" deliberately coincided with the end of January 2022. This gave the Synodal Path, in particular its Forum IV "Living in successful relationships - living love in sexuality and partnership", a tailwind for the third Synodal Assembly, which took place in Frankfurt am Main at the beginning of February 2022.


The debacle

At the fourth Synodal Assembly (8 - 10 September 2022), key basic texts and recommendations for action were read and put to the vote. The debated texts directly touched on some of #OutInChurch's core demands. Three #OutInChurch contributors also took part in this synodal assembly as synod members or advisors. Like the vast majority of the assembly, they experienced a debacle: the basic text of Forum IV failed due to the bishops' blocking minority, as 31 of the 57 episcopal votes cast were in favour and 22 against. Three abstained and others apparently did not vote at all, as according to the Synodal Presidium, 60 bishops took part. Almost 40 percent of the bishops refused to approve the proposed liberalisation of Catholic sexual doctrine, bringing the entire reform project to the brink of failure. Even if the recommen-dations for action derived from the basic text found the necessary two-thirds majority of bishops after several crisis meetings, the synodal path is still in shambles. It is not yet possible to predict with certainty which of the resolutions passed at the 5th and final Synodal Assembly in March 2023 will actually be implemented.

Success for #OutInChurch - amendment of the church constitution

The #OutInChurch initiative eagerly awaited the German bishops' proposals for changes to the church's constitution. These were discussed at the autumn plenary meeting of the German Bishops' Conference in Fulda at the beginning of October 2022. The final new version was then presented at the end of 2022 and has since been ratified by all 27 dioceses. As a result, church labour law has become significantly more non-discriminatory. However, it will probably be some time before these changes are reflected in a genuine cultural change within the church.


#OutInChurch and "As God created us" - Excellent!

The sustained media presence of the #OutInChurch initiative helps to ensure that the important debate it has initiated does not come to a standstill. Various awards for this work also contribute to this. In July 2022, the Hamburg CSD Association presented the #OutInChurch initiative with the Honorary Pride Award.

In May 2023, the winners of the Cusanus Prize for special social commitment were selected by the Cusanuswerk Foundation for the Promotion of Gifted Students. In view of the large number of qualified applications, the jury decided to award the 2023 Cusanus Prize three times.

Hendrik Johannemann (Altcusaner) and Burkhard Hose (university pastor, Würzburg) received an award for their commitment to the #OutInChurch initiative.

In October 2023, the #OutInChurch initiative also received the "Trumpet of Jericho" award from the church reform movements in Austria. The award recognises special services to the reform of the Catholic Church. The award was presented in Vienna to #OutInChurch board member Jens Ehebrecht-Zumsande.

The #OutInChurch initiative will also be honoured with the "Pink Courage Award" in May 2024. This has been awarded annually since 1992 as part of what is now the oldest queer festival in Germany, "Gay in May" in Osnabrück.

The ARD documentary "Wie Gott uns schuf - Coming-out in der katholischen Kirche" was awarded the Catholic Media Prize in the "Television" category in November 2022. In September 2022, "Wie Gott uns schuf - Coming-out in der katholischen Kirche" received the German Television Award in the "Best Documentary/Reportage" category.

In 2023, the documentary "Wie Gott uns schuf" also won in the "royal category" of the prestigious Stern Prize, the "Story of the Year" category.

All of the awards impressively demonstrate that the core demands of #OutInChurch go far beyond the (internal) church context. Unfortunately, the increasing number of physical attacks on LGBTIQ+ people regularly shows that there is still a need to sensitise the general public to everyday discrimination against queer people.


Another TV documentary on coming out

After 100 Catholic believers dared to come out in the ARD documentary "Wie Gott und schuf" in 2022 and the #OutInChurch initiative confronted the Catholic Church with seven demands to ensure a church without fear and discrimination, the sequel to the documentary "Wie Gott und schuf - Nach dem Coming Out" asked: How have people who define themselves as LGBTIQ+ fared since January 2022? Has their situation improved? Or are they still exposed to discrimination and disadvantages?

In May 2023, the film by Katharina Kühn and Hajo Seppelt showed where the Catholic Church has moved and where it has not. The makers of this further TV documentary once again took a critical look at the situation of queer people in the service of the Catholic Church.


Foundation of an association

At the first annual meeting in January 2023, more than 100 participants in #OutInChurch founded an association. The founding of this association is an important step towards strengthening the joint network and organising further work for a church free of fear and discrimination. Anyone who cares about the demands of #OutInChurch can join the association and support its work.


Building bridges to politics

In order to realise its demands, the #OutInChurch association is also increasingly focussing on contacts in German state and federal politics. In 2023, for example, intensive discussions were held with the queer, church and religious policy spokespersons of the democratic parliamentary groups represented in the Bundestag. There were also exchange meetings in the NRW state parliament. These discussions will be continued in the future.


"Fiducia supplicans - on the pastoral meaning of blessings"

On 18 December 2023, the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith presented the declaration "Fiducia supplicans", approved by the Pope, on the permission to bless same-sex couples. The introduction states that the declaration is a "gift to the faithful people of God". Numerous media headlines immediately followed: "Pope authorises blessing of same-sex couples". However, a closer look reveals that this "gift" is more of a "deceptive package", as the text precisely regulates who is authorised to claim this gift, how it is to be unpacked and how it is to be used. The Vatican gets creative and distinguishes between an "ordinary" liturgical blessing and a blessing in the context of popular piety.

The Vatican letter is by no means a course correction with regard to the doctrine of the Church. Rather, the regulations are indications for the practice of pastoral care. Furthermore, any form of relationship and sexuality that is not lived heterosexually in a sacramental marriage is considered a grave sin and cannot be publicly blessed. A church ritual of blessing in a solemn service on the occasion of a civil marriage ceremony is still not planned. However, this undermines the intention of blessing people in their congregational contexts, because blessing is not meant for the silent chamber. What initially appears to be a yes is actually a no. The clear rejection of the creation of liturgical templates and forms thwarts the efforts towards clear liturgical forms and a corresponding design, which are already well advanced in the implementation of the resolutions of the Synodal Path in Germany.

So this "gift" is rather like wishing for a pair of nice shoes but only getting a pair of home-knitted socks.

Nevertheless, "Fiducia supplicans" is a clear signal from the Pope to all those who strictly reject any discussion about the further development of sexual morality and suspect the downfall of Catholicism in this form of blessing alone.

On 3 January 2024, the Vatican then clarified that the blessing of a same-sex couple should only last "a few seconds". It therefore remains the case that queer people are still regarded as an "operational accident" in the history of creation. The discrimination continues.


"Dignitas infinita - infinite dignity" - infinitely undignified!

On 8 April 2024, the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith presented the long-awaited declaration "Dignitas infinita", which was approved by Pope Francis.

Despite some positive aspects, there are still discriminatory and anti-queer passages that adhere to the previous doctrine.

If the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith spoke of infinite dignity ("Dignitas infinita"), then in another world and church this would certainly be cause for cautious optimism. But not here: Dignity is emphasised and it is stated that it is an ontological dignity that every person carries within them by virtue of their existence and that it cannot be lost. However, the fact that it is endangered - morally (freedom of action), socially (conditions of life) and existentially (because the person is ill or personally impaired) - should make us sit up and take notice in view of the argument that the place of dignity is the body given by the Creator.

In other words, humans do not create their nature, they possess it as a gift. By now at the latest, queer Catholics know how the declaration continues, even without further reading. Right at the beginning, it emphasises "the unique and outstanding value of every woman and every man who exists in this world". The binary choice of words therefore already indicates in the second paragraph what it all boils down to: According to this, man is created by God exclusively as man and woman, assigned to each other in complementarity. They have their dignity precisely from there: in their creation, with precisely this nature. The definition of two genders is also praised in the text as the "most beautiful and powerful difference".

It is clear what is at stake: in this binary concept, dignity only exists as a man and a woman, from conception onwards. This difference must not be abolished: neither by the "ideologising colonisation" of "gender theory", according to which all differences must be abolished, nor by gender reassignment measures, which are referred to as "sex reassignment", unless there is "anatomical intersexuality".

The fact that this paper addresses important topics, but instead deals with sexual abuse in just eight lines without any in-depth self-criticism, before going on to describe sexual abuse as a perceived violation of human dignity, makes positive approaches seem stale and implausible.

For queer people and their allies, this document is another building block of dignity-violating behaviour on the part of the Catholic Church. Current human scientific findings are still not taken into account.

To summarise, it can be said: "Just missed is also missed". The declaration "Dignitas infinita" does not really strengthen human rights if it only demands them externally, but not internally. The Catholic Church remains miles away from the open house for all that Pope Francis likes to describe, according to the letter that has now been published. From a queer perspective, however, the regulations presented read as a continuation of existing discrimination.

In conclusion: Rising and rising again

For the author, #OutInChurch has an important spiritual dimension. Every coming out is intense, exhausting and demanding. It often even overtaxes the strength of the individual. But if it succeeds, there is a before and an after. Standing up, setting out into the life for which God created us, is in a way like a resurrection - something we as Christians deeply believe in.



About the text and the author:

First published in the city magazine Kathja 1-2022 with current additions in 4-2024.

Rainer Teuber, born in Essen in 1968, has worked for the Catholic Church since 1996. He is responsible for museum education and visitor services at Essen Cathedral and its treasury. He is gay and has been married to his husband Karl-Heinz since 2004. In their private lives, both are involved in Catholic community work. Teuber is a protagonist in the ARD documentary "Wie Gott uns schuf - Coming out in the Catholic Church", a member of the "Diversity Round Table" in the diocese of Essen and a contributor to the "Sexual Identity and Sexual Morality" working group of the diocese of Essen. He is a co-organiser of #OutInChurch and a contributor to #Liebegewinnt. For his involvement in both initiatives, the Munich-based "Prout at work" foundation honoured him as a "PROUT Performer" in June 2022 and 2023.

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