Initiative #outinchurch : christian, queer, unemployed?

125 employees of the Catholic Church come out as queer – and risk their jobs. With the initiative, they hope for reforms within the church.

A worker hangs a rainbow flag against the backdrop of Cologne Cathedral

125 members of the Catholic Church come out as queer Photo: Oliver Berg/dpa

They speak of humiliation, of repressive behavior, of intimidation, threats, and grueling games of hide-and-seek in the workplace. Being queer and having the Catholic Church as an employer can cost you your job. 125 people serving the church are now coming out to the public and coming out as queer. It’s probably the biggest coming out in the Catholic Church. The #outinchurch initiative includes priests, parish and pastoral ministers, re-li-gi-ons-leh-re-r:innen or co-ar-bei-te-r:innen of the church administration.

The initiative’s concern is presented in the ARD documentary "How God Created Us". Journalist Hajo Seppelt had been researching the issue of gay priests for some time when he caught wind of the #out-in-church campaign. The show airs Monday night, 24. January, prime time on Ersten. Previously, the show was scheduled to air at 11 p.m. The hour-long program is already available in the ARD media library. There are also dozens of one-on-one interviews with campaigners who talk about their motivation behind #outinchurch.

Terminations could come

In the interviews, it becomes clear what concerns people who come out as employed in the Catholic Church must have. You also have to expect dismissal. Whether it’s about queer relationships, divorce or illegitimate children. In quite a few cases, Christian work-goers ordered a transfer – or the sacking followed. Based on the church labor law.

It’s a kind of "moral law" agreed to by fellow ar-bei-te-r:innen who work for institutions of both the Protestant and Catholic churches. After the civil service, churches are considered the second largest employer in Germany. This includes kindergartens, social services, nursing homes or hospitals. Including the two organizations Diakonie and Caritas, about 1.3 million people are employed there.

The right of religious societies to self-determination is enshrined in the German constitution, and church labor law is based on loyalty obligations. According to the report, co-workers should conform to their employer’s beliefs. Not only at work, but also in private life. Church affiliation is often a prerequisite for employment.

Demand for reform of the ecclesiastical labor law

When it comes to co-determination in the workplace, many facilities have a workers’ representation. Basic working conditions, such as those relating to vacation and wages, are balanced out in the "Third Way" committee, which is made up of employees and employers.

Campaign calls for reforms to church employment laws so that sexual orientation and gender identity are no longer grounds for dismissal. Defamatory statements about gender and sexuality should be deleted from church teachings. With it the entrance to catholic sacraments and to all occupational fields of the church goes. Last year, the Vatican once again made it clear that homosexual partnerships were not "in accordance with God’s plans".

Around 20 Catholic organizations and associations support the #outinchurch initiative. In a joint statement, they call for a "culture of diversity in the Catholic Church". "We need a church sexual morality that accepts and respects the sexual morality, the reality of people’s lives."It should no longer be accepted that people in church contexts have to lead a shadowy existence out of fear of church representatives.

"Church without fear"

The Social Service of Catholic Women (SKF) has also signed the declaration. Nadine Mersch of the SKF hopes that there will now be movement in church labor law. "It will be especially important that the reforms presented in the Synodal Way be adopted in the basic church order as the basis of church service," Mersch told the taz. In addition, he said, sexuality doctrine, as presented in the Synodal Way, must be reformed when dealing with homosexuality and LGBTIQ+ people.

The president of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), Irme Stetter-Karp, considers the initiative an important signal. She calls for no employment sanctions for people who come out as queer and promotes a "church without fear". In an interview with the taz, Stetter-Karp expressed confidence that there would be reforms in church labor law. In the Synodal Way, work would be done on corresponding guidelines for action. In the spring of 2023, the agreements are to be completed. Lay people participate in the Synodal Way initiative, but so do bishops.

Also Federal Minister of Justice Marco bush man (FDP) sees need for reform. "No one should be discriminated against because of his or her sexual identity. With all due respect for the church’s right to self-determination, especially in the area related to proclamation – the church, as one of the largest employers in Germany, must also take this into account."In the Basic Law, the equal treatment article should be supplemented with an explicit prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of sexual identity.

Sven Lehmann (Greens), State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs and Federal Government Commissioner for the Acceptance of Sexual and Gender Diversity, expressed his respect for the courage of those who are now using their names and faces for the first time to promote visibility and acceptance of queer people in their church. "The Roman Catholic Church is so far not a place where queer people can naturally stand by their sexual and gender identity," Lehmann said.

lawsuit not yet off the table

In the coalition agreement the new Federal Government had stated, which is to be examined together with the churches, to what extent the church could be adapted to the national industrial law. However, he could not now anticipate this dialogue, said Lehmann. It wished the initiative of office bearers, coworkers and laymen broad solidarity. "Queer people must be able to show their face – everywhere."

Aachen Bishop Helmut Dieser also welcomed the campaign. As a representative of the German Bishops’ Conference, he called it a sign that a climate of freedom from fear must be created in the church. "No one should be discriminated against or devalued or criminalized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said this Monday’s. The Archbishop of Hamburg, Stefan Hebe, made an offer to talk to those involved in the initiative and expressed his respect.

By spring 2023 at the latest, when the Synodical Way decides on its action guidelines, it will become clear whether the campaign will fizzle out or whether it can bring about real reform. A wave of lawsuits from church employees is not yet off the table.

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