The church must change its perspective on sexuality, have more confidence in the faithful, and take greater heed of decisions of conscience, the German Conference of Religious Superiors (DOK) emphasized in its input for the coming Synod of Bishops in October.
In their eight-page statement to the German bishops' conference's request that DOK participate in the opinion-forming process up to the synod, the superiors pointed out how important it is for the church to have a more open view of sexuality.
The statement said Catholics today think it particularly important that sexuality should not inspire fear and anxiety as it so often did for many Catholics in the past. The faithful in Germany today are convinced that sexual fulfillment is "important and precious."
The large majority, moreover, do not believe that every sexual act must be open to procreation but strive to practice responsible parenthood.
"The faithful in the core sectors of our communities specifically appeal to those responsible in the church to put greater trust in them," the superiors said in the statement. "They would certainly welcome more help in decisions of conscience but are critical of pastors who interfere with a heavy hand."
The status of Catholics who are divorced and remarried in the church has been a problem for decades now and urgently needs solving, the statement said. The question of how priests should deal with all those involved when a marriage failed is one of the most pressing problems in pastoral work today.
"Our experience shows even Catholics who have been happily married for decades want the church to find a merciful solution for those whose marriages have failed," the statement said. "They do not agree with the argument often given in church documents that showing mercy to [the divorced and remarried] would lessen the radiance of Christian marriage. On the contrary, the church's present practice of not allowing [the divorced and remarried] to go to Communion is often seen as casting a shadow on God's love and on the good tidings."
Many German Catholics would like to see the Catholic church adopt the Orthodox practice, which allows the divorced and remarried to receive the Eucharist, especially as the church has never refuted this practice, the statement said.
Priests have found that most gay people feel unaccepted in the church. "Christians of homosexual orientation talk to us quite openly about how they feel that they are just not accepted," the statement said.
Many gay people aspire to a Christian lifestyle and to lifelong, faithful partnerships, but they cannot accept that the church requires them to remain celibate. More and more Catholics in city parishes no longer think that blessing gay partnerships would push Christian marriage into the closet, the statement said. They deplore that so many gay people are leaving or have long since left the church because they feel unaccepted, it continued.
While the desire for responsible, lasting and faithful partnerships among young people is great, the many cases of priestly sexual abuse and the debate in society on the wrongs so many minors suffered as a consequence have made young people reluctant to be open with pastors, which is deeply deplorable, the statement said.
All these issues have been on the church's agenda for "far too long" without answers having been found, resulting in a gulf between church teaching and Catholic lifestyles that grows ever wider, the statement said.
It concludes with the following call: "Our church must be an inviting church. Public interest in the questions of marriage, family and sexuality have been aroused by the Episcopal Synod's dialogue process. Let us humbly and courageously use this opportunity to find new, long overdue answers to these questions together and speak about marriage and the family in a language which reflects the reality of the society concerned, but let us also talk not only about the joys of a successful marriage but also about those affected by marriage crises and about failed marriages. This is a good pastoral chance to do so -- let us use it with the strength that God gives us!"
The 430 superiors in the German Conference of Religious Superiors represent 22,800 religious -- 18,300 women religious and 4,500 men.
[Christa Pongratz-Lippitt is the Austrian correspondent for the London Catholic weekly The Tablet.]