The synodal assembly for the reform of the Catholic Church decided on Friday in Frankfurt/Main to officially celebrate blessings for homosexual couples. 176 out of 202 members voted in favour, 14 against and 12 abstained. The necessary two-thirds majority of the bishops was also achieved.

A working group is now to be formed that will create a handout for the blessing celebrations “promptly”. The handout is intended to specify how the blessing celebrations should take place. As soon as this handout is ready, every bishop can implement the blessing celebrations in his diocese. In 2026 there will then be an evaluation of the experiences.

After the vote, applause erupted in the Frankfurt exhibition hall. The approval of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples was a main requirement for the Synodal Path reform process, which has been ongoing since 2019, and was considered a touchstone for the Catholic Church’s ability to change in Germany.

The blessing celebrations are already practiced in many communities today, but they take place in a gray area in terms of canon law. It was precisely this gray area that many of the synod members criticized. It was time to get blessing celebrations out of living rooms and secret meetings in a church, it was said several times. In future, the priests who give the blessing should no longer have to fear sanctions. Divorced people who have remarried should also be able to be blessed.

However, the difference to marriage should always be made clear. In the Catholic Church it is a sacrament, a “sign of salvation” in which people can encounter God. The Vatican clarified in 2021 that it was “not permissible” to bless homosexual partnerships, since such unions “could not be recognized as being objectively directed towards God’s revealed plans”.

Among those who announced a rejection of the application in Frankfurt, reference was made to the very different positions within the universal church on homosexuality. In Africa, the Catholics are strictly against it, such as the delegate Emeka Ani. The Bishop of Eichstätt, Gregor Maria Hanke, warned of a conflict within the Church on this issue, as the Anglican Church is currently experiencing. According to their own words, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau and Bishop of Regensburg Rudolf Voderholzer were among the bishops who voted against the blessing celebrations.

The theologian Mirjam Gräve, who is married to a woman, on the other hand, emphasized in the debate in Frankfurt: “Giving blessings is the very own mission of the church”. Theology professor Julia Knop also emphasized: “If liturgy is used to humiliate people by refusing blessings, this contradicts the will of God.”

The Antwerp bishop Johan Bonny reported in the synodal assembly about the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in Belgium, which has already taken place. This was relatively silent, he reported. They have agreed informally with the Vatican and Pope Francis. The Pope just said to him: “That’s your decision.” It was important to him that all bishops were behind it.

However, the reformers also suffered setbacks in Frankfurt. The synodal assembly decided to strengthen the rights of the laity – for example, it is about women being allowed to preach in church services. However, at the insistence of the bishops, the resolutions were significantly weakened and softened – just like on Thursday evening, when the opening of the priestly compulsory celibacy was discussed. Many members of the synod accused the bishops of blackmail: they mercilessly exploited the fact that nothing could be decided without them. All decisions of the assembly must be approved by the bishops with a two-thirds majority.

The chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, Georg Bätzing, practically implored the other pastors to fully support the outstanding reform plans: “I ask the fellow bishops not to let these proposals fail.” The President of the Central Committee of German Catholics, Irme Stetter-Karp , took the bishops to court harshly: “How long do you want to make use of our not infinite but very great willingness to compromise, dear bishops?” she reproached them. “Sometimes some of us also feel blackmailed. It is high time that you meet us. Please take a step towards us now. Move!”

In principle, Pope Francis can imagine abolishing celibacy for priests. The head of the Catholic Church told the Argentine news portal Infobae. In the interview, Francis recalled that married men are allowed as priests in the Eastern Catholic Church. “There is no contradiction in the fact that a priest can marry,” said the 86-year-old, who has repeatedly been asked by various parties for years to end or relax celibacy for priests.

When asked by Infobae whether celibacy is revisable, Francis replied yes. He explained that celibacy in the Western Church is a “temporary requirement” and thus “provisional” in contrast to, for example, ordination to the priesthood “forever”. But Francis doubted that more men would opt for the priesthood if they were allowed to be married at the same time.

According to media reports, the Pope only declared in mid-February that he wanted to remain celibate. With the help of “true friendships among priests” it is possible to live celibacy.