Eight Catholic priests held a ceremony blessing same-sex couples in front of the Cologne Cathedral in western Germany on Wednesday evening, in protest against socially conservative Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne.
Roughly 500 people joined the service, many of them waving rainbow flags in front of the iconic gothic cathedral, one of Germany’s most famous landmarks. The crowd sang the Beatles hit song “All You Need Is Love.”
About 30 gay, lesbian, and heterosexual couples were blessed during the evening ceremony. Many cried.
Catholic doctrine considers homosexuality a sin and does not recognize same-sex couples or marriages.
However, leaders of Germany’s Catholic Church, who tend to be far more liberal than Catholics elsewhere in the world, voted by a large majority in a synodal assembly on reform to allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
Local German bishops are given the final say over whether to allow blessing ceremonies in their diocese, and Cologne’s Woelki has continued to hold the Vatican line on the issue.
The blessing service on Wednesday evening was a reaction against Woelki’s decision to reprimand a priest from the town of Mettmann who had also held a blessing ceremony for same-sex couples.
This action had triggered a wave of indignation from liberal German Catholics.
After the service, Maria Mesrian, an activist with the reform movement Maria 2.0, called it pathetic to discipline a priest who had blessed the love between two people.
Mesrian said she recalled the archdiocese once organizing a blessing of an iron fence in front of the south portal of the Cologne Cathedral.
“Grates and fences are sacred and worthy of blessing to these men, but love between people is not,” Mesrian said.
She contended that there is no theological justification for denying same-sex couples, as there is not a single place in the Gospel where Jesus excludes or rejects a person.
The German government’s queer commissioner, Green Party politician Sven Lehmann, called the service an important symbol in the effort to demand recognition for same-sex couples in the Catholic Church.
“It is mainly thanks to the Church’s grassroots that the Church is opening up more and more,” Lehmann said. “Archbishop Woelki and the Vatican, on the other hand, are light years behind social reality.”
A few yards away from the blessing ceremony, about a dozen conservative Catholics gathered in front of Cologne’s train station to demonstrate against the blessing ceremony.
“Let’s stay Catholic,” a banner read.
The counter-rally was organized by the German Society for the Protection of Tradition, Family, and Private Property.
Left-wing counter-counterdemonstrators gathered around the conservative Catholics and booed the small group loudly.