Germany

The Openly Gay Priest Shaking Up The Catholic Church In Germany

Holger Allmenroeder is a Catholic priest who is also openly gay. He supports gay and lesbian people, divorcees and those who have remarried. Traditionalists may find him alienating but his masses are well attended. Is he the future of the Church?

German Catholic priest Holger Allmenroeder.
German Catholic priest Holger Allmenroeder.
Marlen Dannoritzer

MAINZ — Catholic priest Holger Allmenroeder's short hair and friendly smile fit the part. Yet when leading Mass, he often wears a rainbow stole over his white robe — a symbol of the LGBTQ movement.

Allmenroeder, 58, is a Roman Catholic priest responsible for two parishes in the diocese of Mainz in western Germany. He leads Mass, officiates at weddings and funerals, and visits the elderly and the sick. And he is openly gay. He's known about his sexuality since he was a teenager. That's why he speaks up for those who are often shut out of the Catholic Church: gay and lesbian people, trans people, remarried divorcees. His Masses are always well attended, with parking spaces near the church hard to find on Sundays— even during the pandemic.

Are people like Allmenroeder the future of the Church? Or are they destined to lose in clashes with an institution that is built on centuries of dogma?

On ringing the rectory doorbell, we are greeted by a barefoot man in bright clothes. He leads us into a room with a well-stocked bookcase and a cross hanging on the white walls. "Faith is an exclusive club that only allows certain chosen people in," says Allmenroeder — and the Church needs to finally recognize that.

He says gay and trans people often believe in God, but find themselves shut out from the Church. Recently, the debate about homosexuality in the Church was reignited when priests in a number of German parishes carried out blessings of same-sex unions. Allmenroeder was among them, blessing the unions of two couples. He says that the increased awareness was good, but he doesn't like to think of it as some form of protest. "Blessing same-sex unions should simply be normal."

Allmenroeder grew up in the nearby Ruhr region. He was baptized into the evangelical Church and found faith as a teenager, but says he always felt something was missing. He found that missing piece in the Catholic Church, where he simply felt more comfortable, so he converted after leaving school.

After a few years working as an administrative official, he decided to become a priest. He wanted to dedicate his career to his faith and work more closely with people. The prospect of celibacy didn't put him off. Because, as Allmenroeder says, priests are by no means isolated.

"Every one of us has a past, friends, parents, siblings." He believes celibacy is a "relic from the Middle Ages' but he says the requirement to remain celibate leaves a lot of room for maneuver. "Celibacy means that priests must remain unmarried." How you interpret that is down to the individual. There is no one checking up.

"When I look in the mirror, I don't want to blush."

Allmenroeder didn't see his homosexuality as a reason not to be ordained in the Catholic Church. He didn't want to hide it. From a young age he decided not to deny who he was: "When I look in the mirror, I don't want to blush." He stayed true to that, although it meant many stumbling blocks were put in his way.

When he applied to the seminary, he felt there was a lot of disapproval, especially from one particular man: "The Archbishop of Cologne at the time told me I would never be a priest. He said he would personally use his influence to stop me — simply because I was open about being gay." Instead of holding him back, Allmenroeder says these experiences have made him stronger. In 2000 he was ordained in the diocese of Mainz, and since 2004 he has worked in Seligenstadt, a small town near Frankfurt, where he is the priest of two churches — St Mary's and St Margaret's.

Basilic_Germany

The Einhard-Basilika in Seligenstadt, Germany. — Photo: Epizentrum/ Wikipedia

The two parishes are very different. The Masses at St Mary's take place in a concrete building from the 1970s, whereas St Margaret's is a neo-Gothic church. Many of the parishioners there place a lot of emphasis on tradition. Allmenroeder says he was warmly welcomed from the start at St Mary's, but there was a little more hesitation at St Margaret's.

Günter Laber is a member of the parochial church council at St Margaret's and he says they had a "bit of a bumpy start". "When Father Allmenroeder arrived, there was a bit of friction," he says. Allmenroeder didn't place a lot of emphasis on the veneration of saints, although that is a very important aspect of the faith for many conservative Catholics. Laber says, "Perhaps that didn't come naturally to Father Allmenroeder because he grew up in the evangelical faith."

But in the end, says Laber, it wasn't a problem. The parishioners recognized Allmenroeder's strengths – they value how involved he is with them. "When problems arise or someone is dissatisfied, they can always talk to him."

Although at first the new priest was not what they were used to, Laber says he hasn't seen parishioners drift away. "I would say the opposite is true. Over the years Father Allmenroeder has brought in lots of people who weren't so strongly rooted in our community. He's especially good with young people." In that way it seems Father Allmenroeder is bucking the trend.

More and more people are turning their backs on the Church. In 2019 alone, more than 272,000 German Catholics left the faith. Young people especially say that the Church is not authentic, that it is hypocritical and unapproachable. They are calling for a realignment, a more modern approach.

Allmenroeder doesn't want to wait any longer. He wants to see female priests ordained, and says that women who have abortions shouldn't be judged. "The fact that the Church gets involved there is simply an expression of patriarchal structures."

In his sermons Allmenroeder speaks powerfully about divorce and remarriage. He explains why it's unreasonable for divorcees to be excluded from Mass: "The person whose partner has left them is punished twice over, even if they can't do anything about it." There are some parishioners who think that he often goes too far. "That does make certain people uncomfortable," says Günter Laber, "but no one says anything about it any more. We know our priest."

Even the small rainbow flag that Allmenroeder often wears on his lapel has met with criticism. Some higher-ranking members of the clergy have tried to ban him from wearing it. But he refused to take it off.

The emphasis should be on forgiveness rather than dogma.

Allmenroeder's views run contrary to the direction where the Roman Catholic Church appears to be moving, says Detlef Pollack, Professor of the Sociology of Religion at the University of Münster. Pollack sees Allmenroeder as "a sign of a change that has been taking place on the ground for a long time. At an institutional level these reforms are still a long way off – they are coming up against dogma and traditions." Given the Catholic Church's 2,000-year tradition, "you can't expect fundamental aspects of its teaching to be overhauled in the blink of an eye. It takes time," says Pollack.

Many experts are pessimistic about the future of the Church, even Catholics. Some think it may only last another few decades. Pollack thinks this is unrealistic. "The Church won't just collapse overnight," he says. But he believes reforms are necessary.

German_Catholic_priest

"We simply need to be more authentic – from the smallest parish right up to the Vatican." — Photo: Marlen Dannoritzer/Die Welt

One of the biggest problems is a lack of trust in the institution. Could Allmenroeder help there, in the long term? "A priest like Father Allmenroeder could well have a part to play," says Pollack. "When priests like him rebuild people's faith in the Church, the institution as a whole also benefits."

Allmenroeder says it's a question of credibility. "We simply need to be more authentic – from the smallest parish right up to the Vatican," he says. "That also means standing for equality, rather than placing clergy above the congregation."

Above all, the emphasis should be on forgiveness rather than dogma. That is the only way for the Church to remain attractive to believers. "And that," says Allmenroeder, "is important, otherwise priests will be celebrating Mass alone."

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January 15-16

  • Kazakhstan’s vicious circle of strongmen
  • COVID school chaos around the world
  • The truth behind why we lie to ourselves
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. What extreme measure did the Canadian province of Quebec take to encourage people to get vaccinated?

2. What caused a massive power outage in Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, leaving 700,000 in the dark for hours?

3. Norwegian soldiers were asked to return what piece of clothing at the end of their military service, so that future recruits can reuse them?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? ❤️ 🐖 🏥 👨 👍

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Djokovic, BoJo, Xi Jinping: rules & power in pandemic times

It was the phrase of the week down on Fleet Street, the historic HQ of the London press corps: “Bring your own booze” — BYOB — the instructions secretly sent around for the garden party held at 10 Downing Street in blatant violation of the first coronavirus lockdown, back in May 2020.The revelations of the event (the second such scandal to emerge in the past two months) has left British Prime Minister Boris Johnson barely holding on to his job after his admission to Parliament this week that he was there … and he was, well, quite sorry.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the former British empire, Australians are following how their public representatives will resolve the latest twist in pandemic policy that has captured the sporting world’s attention. Back and forth, like a tennis match. By the end of the week, Australia had reversed a Monday court decision, and canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa that would have allowed him to defend his Australian Open title. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the visa was revoked on the grounds that the presence of the unvaccinated Serbian star risks fueling anti-vax sentiment on home soil.

This is high-stakes political gamesmanship indeed. The unprecedented health crisis, and associated restrictions to limit the spread of the virus, requires our elected leaders to react to ever-changing information and a chain of lose-lose public policy choices. COVID continues to make the hard job of being a public representative that much harder. The best, we can agree, are doing the best they can. The worst, well … are the worst.

The British public has rightly taken offense to the idea that the very people charged with making and enforcing COVID rules, were also busy breaking them. In the Djokovic saga, skeptics of vaccination mandates — in Australia, Serbia and beyond — will have new ammunition if the world’s top tennis player is kicked out of both tournament and country.

The good news is that in our eternally flawed democracies, the public eventually (though not always!) finds out what goes wrong, and ultimately has the final say of who’s in charge. The same can’t be said everywhere, including the country that has been cited for having the most successful methods for controlling the virus and limiting death tolls. That is, of course, China … where it all began.

Yet the authoritarian regime's “Zero COVID policy” comes with deeper questions that largely mirror the downside of authoritarianism in general: ruthless enforcement, quelled dissent and the sometimes blind following of the masses. It’s hard to imagine that Xi Jinping has had any “BYOB parties” in the past two years. But if he did, you can be sure we’d never know.

— Jeff Israely


🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Makar Sankranti 2022: The Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti is celebrated on January 14 and 15 in almost all parts of India and Nepal in a myriad of cultural forms. The festival marks the end of winter, the beginning of a new harvest season, and has ancient religious significance.

• Parthenon fragment returns to Greece: A marble fragment from the Parthenon temple has been returned to Athens from a museum in Sicily. Authorities hope the move will rekindle efforts to force the British Museum to send back ancient sculptures from Greece's most renowned ancient landmark.

• 400 years of Molière: France honors its seminal playwright on the 400th anniversary of his birth. His influence, comparable to that of Shakespeare in the anglophone world, is such that French is often referred to as the "language of Molière."

• Vinyl surpassed CDs sales for the first time in 30 years: For the first time since 1991, annual sales of vinyl records surpassed those of CDs in the U.S, according to MRC Data and Billboard, with an estimated 41.72 million vinyl records sold in 2021 (up 51.4% from 27.55 million in 2020). This means that vinyl is now the leading format for all album purchases in the U.S.

• Kendrick Lamar teams up with South Park creators: Grammy-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar and his former longtime manager Dave Free are working with South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to produce a live-action comedy for Paramount Pictures.

📚😷 COVID SCHOOL CHAOS AROUND THE WORLD


The decisions to close schools have been some of the toughest choices made during the pandemic, with students suffering both academically and socially from online learning or no education at all. It’s universally acknowledged that children most succeed with in-person classes, but the question still remains whether the health risk to students and those around them is worth it.

The Omicron wave has only caused this debate to heighten, with teacher strikes in France, rising drop-out rates in Argentina and shortages of staff in South Africa. But there are signs of hope: Uganda has finally reopened schools, ending the world’s longest shutdown, and some American parents have decided to offer more personalized education with homeschooling.

Read the full story: COVID School Chaos, Snapshots From 10 Countries Around The World

🇰🇿  KAZAKHSTAN’S VICIOUS CIRCLE OF STRONGMEN


The real transition of power in Kazakhstan was supposed to have taken place in 2019. Former President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who had ruled the former Soviet Republic with an iron first since its independence in 1991, finally stepped aside to allow his successor, Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, to take power.

However, Nazarbayev retained enormous influence behind the scenes. The real transfer of power is in fact happening only now, following large-scale unrest and protests around the country. Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev promises a new way of doing things, but his methods are strikingly similar to his predecessor. For Russian daily Kommersant, Vladimir Soloviev and Alexander Konstantinov ponder why strongmen are able to keep power in Kazakhstan — but can't ensure its peaceful transfer.

Read the full story: Kazakhstan, When One Strongman Replaces Another

🐟 DENMARK, A SMALL FISH IN THE SALMON INDUSTRY’S BIG POND


Things are getting fishy over Nordic fishing regulations, as the Danish government has banned further growth in sea-based fish farming, claiming the country had reached the limit without endangering the environment. In Danish newspaper Politiken, marine biologist Johan Wedel Nielsen explained why Demark’s policy has given Norway a de facto monopoly on the lucrative salmon industry. This is particularly significant as changing diet habits are increasing demand for the nutritious pink fish, and Norway has taken advantage, accounting for about half of the world’s salmon production.

Nielsen argues that environmental concerns aren’t warranted, as fish have an inherently small impact on the environment. Denmark has the potential to establish 150 salmonid (a family of fish including salmon and trout) farms in the Baltic Sea, producing some 500,000 tons of trout per year with a value of 2.7 billion euros and employing tens of thousands. But the Danish government has so far given no indication of allowing any addition to Denmark’s 19 existing farms.

Read the full story: Norwegian Salmon v. Danish Trout: Lessons On Ecology And Economics

💡  BRIGHT IDEA

French start-up Airxôm has unveiled its unique respiratory device at Las Vegas’ CES tech event. Their plastic and silicon face mask is the first capable of destroying particles of all sizes and has inbuilt decontamination properties, hence protecting against pollution, bacteria and viruses including COVID-19. Oh and, as a bonus, it also prevents your glasses from fogging.

#️⃣ TRENDING


Boris Johnson memes flooded social networks this week, mocking the UK’s prime minister's excuse for attending what was quite obviously a party at the height of the pandemic: “I believed implicitly that this was a work event.” The quote was shared alongside a toe-curlingly bad 2013 video of BoJo dancing to Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” which resurfaced on Instagram, while Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair puts its own spin on the lame explanation.

🤦‍♀️🛴🤦‍♂️ FACEPALM OF THE WEEK


A Belgian national was intercepted by the French police while riding his e-scooter on a highway in eastern France. The confused trottinette user said it was his first time riding in France, and that he’d failed to select the “no toll roads” option on his GPS.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Climate, COVID, Costa Concordia: why humans are wired for denial

This past week marked 10 years since the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship off the coast of Tuscany. Writing in Italian daily La Stampa, Guido Maria Brera sees connections between the way passengers and crew reacted in the minutes and hours after the ship ran aground to other calamities we face that may seem to be moving more slowly:

In 2012, the same year the Costa Concordia cruise ship sank off of Giglio Island, David Quammen published his book Spillover, which predicted that somewhere in Asia a virus would be attacking the human respiratory tract on its way to becoming a global pandemic. And so it was. This terrible shipwreck, which the world watched in slow-motion exactly ten years ago on January 13, 2012, now appears to us — just like the COVID-19 pandemic, like the trailer of a horror film we are now all living for real.

Millions dead, ten of millions sick, and the psychological collapse of entire generations, the youngest and most defenseless. In the meantime, climate change is spiraling out of control: sea levels are rising, land is drying out, ice caps are melting, not to mention hurricanes, storms, floods, droughts, famines, wars, migration.

The correlation between climate change and the pandemic has been demonstrated countless times by scientists. Soaring temperatures, intensive livestock farming, deforestation and the devastation of the natural animal kingdoms have led to zoonosis: Species-hopping, in which a bacterium or virus escapes from its host and spreads to another, creating a chain reaction with devastating results.

Finding the correlation between the sinking of the Costa Concordia and the current situation is more a subtle exercise: by looking at the decisions we made to respond to the disaster — or rather, how we failed to take action.

"The Concordia has become a maze of choices in the dark, deciding whether to open a door or not, whether to move or stay put, can be the difference between life and death,” Pablo Trincia said recently in his podcast “Il Dito di Dio.” (The Finger of God). A cruise ship with more than 4,000 people, including passengers, crew and ship personnel, is a microcosm in itself: it contains everything. And indeed, in these very long and slow moments, when time seems suspended, a tragedy was in the making.

There were reported many notable demonstrations of solidarity, as strangers helped each other. There were also those who fled as quickly as possible, seeking their personal safety at the expense of others. There were those who, between the ship crashing into the rocks and the dropping of the first lifeboats, seemed not to care.

If it is true that there are lessons to learn even from the worst tragedies, then we must make sure that the terrible wreckage of this small world can help us understand and identify the rocks we are heading towards today: the climate crisis and the pandemic. Time is the discriminating factor, as always. Director Adam McKay explains it well in his movie Don't Look Up, showing us how people react as they face slow-motioned tragedies.

In this scenario, the slowness of the film is the central narrative choice: there is initially plenty of time before the comet would hit the earth, ineluctably ending human life, and there remains plenty of time to live and love and enjoy.

Hence, we also have time to expect that the asteroid is still far away, to imagine that it will deviate from its course. We even have time to forget that the impact is inevitable, and to continue to live as if nothing is happening.

This is the most common reaction to pandemics and environmental disasters. Turn your head away, pretend you don't see, don't look up.

Denial is the work of politicians incapable of questioning the only development model they know, of the billionaires who built bunkers to survive in New Zealand, (where it seems that the crisis will have less impact), of the Silicon Valley gurus have already bought coolers to preserve their bodies for eternity by cryogenics.

On the Costa Concordia, refusal to look the disaster in the eye wasn’t just the work of those who were supposed to give the alert and manage the evacuation: we are all in the same boat when it comes to denial. When a disaster happens in slow motion, it feels as though there is still too much time to bother rushing for solutions now.

We tend to think about the time we have left, about the costs and benefits to our tiny lives, without even realizing that never has the need for salvation been more collective.

Ten years ago, as today, we convinced ourselves that we are absolved of responsibility precisely because we know that everyone shares the same responsibility.

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov set next week as the ultimatum for a confirmation that NATO will neither expand nor deploy forces to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations.

• Next Sunday will mark two years since the World Health Organization declared during an emergency meeting that COVID-19 was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

• On Tuesday, a 3,400-foot-wide asteroid will make a safe flyby of Earth, whooshing by our planet at the equivalent of five Earth-Moon distances (still pretty close from a cosmic point of view).

• Monday is Ditch New Year’s Resolutions Day, so you still have a few more hours to decide whether that gym membership really was a good idea.

News quiz answers:

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