FOR A CHURCH WITHOUT FEAR: coming out of catholic employees.
photo: SWR ©OutInChurch
An old German man with glasses and white hair sits inside a church - his church - as his eyes fill with tears while he speaks. He is gay. And a priest. And he does no longer want to hide.
He is part of #OutInChurch. For a church without fear. This movement was released together with a website, a book with the same name and the documentary “How God created us” on January 24th, 2022. 125 LGBTQIA+ (*see term explanation at the bottom of the text) people who work for the Roman Catholic Church in German speaking countries, full time or voluntarily, are publicly coming out as Queer (*see definition at the bottom) with the release of this initiative - which means risking their job and facing not only positive but discriminatory public response as well.
For most of the people involved the public coming out is an enourmous relief because there are many stories of queer people working for the Roman Catholic Church who played a double role all their work life in order not to risk their job. Because everybody who works for this catholic church - from priests and bishops to teachers, nurses, doctors, caritas workers - has to sign a working contract that obliges them to be loyal to the beliefs of the Roman Catholic church. And since Queerness is clearly and strictly forbidden and even neglected by this church, if it turns out that you are queer and work for it, it is very likely that the same day you get a call, a letter, an email and you lose your job because you broke your contract. This theoretically is a violation of the human right to non-discrimination and equality. But because of a speciality in the German law system it is still fully legal: The Churches in Germany have the right to regulate their inner matters on their own to a certain extend, which allows them to have a work law that forbids queer people to be employed.
This leads to situations as absurd as what happened to the couple Monika Schmelter and Marie Kortenbusch who spent their whole work life as employees of catholic institutions in Germany. They had to hide their relationship for more than 40 years. Worked over 100 km apart as a “safety measure”, could never take each other to trips with the colleagues and feared that students, colleagues and mostly their bosses could find out about their non- heteronormative relationship at any point and fire them legally. The hiding away led so far that when Monikas dad died, she had to do the funeral without having her wife Marie by her side to comfort her and mourn together, because nobody was supposed to know about them. Both describe it as incredibly absurd and degrading. The hidden misfits in the system of work relations under the catholic church are not just some inconveniences in paperwork, it is real people that decide to be part of a system that doesn't want them, because at the same time it is the only possible place for them to express their religion. The German speaking Roman catholic church is actively firing and excluding some of its best priests, most engaged teachers, old and young people with a passion for their job.
The journalist Hajo Seppelt assesses the situation like this: “the factual pressure on the [Roman catholic] church to [change] right now is bigger than ever before”. (Hajo Seppelt, ARD Berlin) A glance into every other youth group, office or other team working in and around the catholic church shows that the people that carry the whole construct “church” on the bottom layer would love to do nothing more than not having to somewhat automatically represent an institution whose discrepancy between its individual members and its rulers is probably bigger than in any other structure. The people don´t want that. It is not necessarily Christians in general who are anti- queer, it is the heads of the structure. Out in Church even shows that Christians can be queer and that they have always existed. So, with the global society advancing in tolerance of things considered “different from normal” before, has the Institution “Roman Catholic church” been shoveling its own grave for decades by strictly opposing any change?
If you ask me, supporting initiatives like this is exactly the path that we should be going. It is fascinating to me: young and old christians suffer from a place that does not accept them and they can still love it. But is there ever gonna come a point where German speaking youngsters who nowadays have the privilege to live in more and more diverse and tolerant central European countries can say “yeah, I am catholic” without hurrying to explain “well but that does not have much to do with church as an institution, I distance myself from it”?
Out in church is a small but important part of an inner turmoil of something as big and complex as the Institution “Roman Catholic church” that has the power to spark a wave of change…- or maybe not, because it will forever stay consequently conservative? Time will tell how the future of Romanic Catholicism will look like, but until then we should make an effort to educate ourselves and lead a fair debate of how to make not only the church but the whole society a more inclusive place.
Article by Katharina Bartels
*LGBTQIA+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersexual and Asexual, the + for all other gender identities and sexualities there are. So this abreviation is a collectional term meaning all sexualities that are not straight (hetero) and gender identities that are not cis (cisgender means that the gender one is assigned at birth is the same gender that they actually are. So non- cis people include e.g. trans and non- binary persons).
*Queer is an umbrella term for non-straight sexual orientations
PS: here is a quote from the initiative´s website, feel free to check it out further and support them.
“Out In Church calls on all LGBTIQ+ people, who work full-time or on a voluntary basis in the Roman Catholic Church, to join the initiative. In addition, all people are invited to show solidarity with the initiative. The bishops and all those, who have responsibilities in the church, the parishes, associations and religious communities are invited to declare publicly their support for the manifest” (“Manifest EN –”)
#OutInChurch – Für eine Kirche ohne Angst, https://outinchurch.de/. Accessed 31 March 2022.
ARD Mediathek · Videos von Das Erste und den Dritten Programmen · ARD Mediathek, https://www.ardmediathek.de. Accessed 31 March 2022.
Ehrenberg, Markus, and Inga Hofmann. “125 Bedienstete der katholischen Kirche outen sich als queer.” Tagesspiegel, 24 January 2022, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/medien/viel-unterstuetzung-fuer-initiative-outinchurch-125-bedienstete-der-katholischen-kirche-outen-sich-als-queer/28000164.html. Accessed 31 March 2022.
“Hajo Seppelt, ARD Berlin, "Der faktische Druck auf die Kirche, sich zu bewegen, ist so groß wie noch nie."” Tagesschau, 24 January 2022, https://www.tagesschau.de/multimedia/video/video-977965.html. Accessed 31 March 2022.
“Manifest EN –.” OutInChurch, 24 January 2022, https://outinchurch.de/manifest/english/. Accessed 31 March 2022.
“Out in Church - A Church without Fear - Rainbow Catholics.” Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, 21 January 2022, https://rainbowcatholics.org/out-in-church-for-a-church-without-fear/. Accessed 31 March 2022.
“#OutInChurch: Kirchenmitarbeiter sollen weiterarbeiten dürfen.” SWR3, 28 January 2022, https://www.swr3.de/aktuell/wie-gott-uns-schuf-102.html. Accessed 8 April 2022.