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‘Outing’ the Liberal Catholic Project

The Archbishop of Berlin, Heiner Koch, recently authorized [1] priests in his archdiocese to confer ceremonial blessings upon homosexual couples. Strangely, he also announced that he himself would not impart such blessings until he receives explicit permission from Pope Francis. He seems to be confident that such permission will someday be given, yet he’s certainly not unaware that Pope Francis personally approved in 2021 the publication of a teaching document [2] of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith forbidding such blessings.

That document states:

it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. . . .it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex… .there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. [citing Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia]

Koch knows this practice plainly contradicts Church doctrine and has thus never been authorized, yet he thinks that pastoral governance includes the right to disregard his sworn obligation to uphold the teachings of the Faith and to obey the law of the Church. Instead, he wants his priests to engage in the blasphemous practice of conducting a religious ceremony in which they ask God to pour out his grace upon gravely sinful unions publicly entered into for the purpose of engaging in unnatural sexual acts that are unequivocally condemned in the revealed word of God.

How did we arrive at such a point in the Church?  Koch and those who applaud his infidelity clearly no longer believe in Church teaching on the right use of the sexual faculty, but also the Church’s claim to teach God’s saving truth without error. They assert that the Church has, in fact, been mistaken all along, and that 180-degree changes in doctrine are normal and nothing to worry about.

So far Pope Francis has not instructed Archbishop Koch to reverse course, nor has he reaffirmed, despite the very public rejection of Catholic teaching by various churchmen, the inherent immorality of homosexual acts and the consequent impossibility of blessing homosexual unions. In fact, various churchmen guilty of such infidelity have been promoted by Pope Francis to positions of authority and influence.

The phenomenon of dissent from Church teaching is fairly described as the liberal Catholic project, in the sense proposed by John Henry Newman in his 1879 Biglietto Speech [3]:

Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining substance and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective fact, not miraculous; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.

Pope Francis meets with German bishops in 2015 [Vatican Media]

It further consists of the effort to do away with Catholicism as a dogmatic revealed religion centered upon the eternal salvation of souls and remake it into a religion of human benevolence promoting personal fulfillment, social harmony, and material well-being.

Eternal salvation for everyone is now assumed. God is too good and loving to condemn anyone to Hell. Jesus should not be taken literally when he speaks about souls being punished eternally. This is obviously a bracing, if puzzling, type of hyperbole to get people’s attention, not something we should take literally.

Belief in unchangeable doctrines that must be believed in order to be saved is an artifact of a forgettable past in which believers were naively fixated upon the mistaken notion that Christ’s teaching is the only divinely revealed, and hence normative, way to live in union with God. God would never be so exclusive. He is the inclusive God who loves everyone just as they are. The purpose of religious rites and teachings is to help man find peace with himself and with his neighbor. Any Church doctrine or law that creates barriers and separates people from each other must be cast aside.

The present crisis in the Church is the result of this liberal project gaining the upper hand due to the decision of Pope Francis not to treat it as the mortal threat that it is. Rather, he grants the proponents of the liberal project great freedom to sow doubt and confusion among the faithful, all the while condemning those who resist this project as “reactionaries,” stigmatizing them as nostalgic, if not unbalanced, “backwardists” who suffer from an unhealthy attachment to an ideology.

Advocates of the liberal project cannot abide a Church that is concerned first and foremost with how we should live so as to enter into the blessed vision of God in Heaven, and secondarily with how we can make the world a better place for afflicted mankind. A Heaven-centered religion is treated as a distraction from, if not an obstacle, to the real work of the Church, which is uniting mankind in bonds of fraternity and mutual understanding, and most recently, sustainability.

The Synod on Synodality promises to be the long-awaited opportunity to attempt once and for all to bury Catholicism centered upon the eternal salvation of souls in Christ, and replace it with the new and improved Catholicism of judgment-free human coexistence in which the paramount goal is to make everyone feel included, appreciated and affirmed in whatever personal choices they make in life, unless one chooses to embrace Catholicism centered upon the eternal salvation of souls in Christ.


The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City. His new book (with Diane Montagna), Calming the Storm: Navigating the Crises Facing the Catholic Church and Society, is now available.