LGBT Catholic officials stage mass coming-out in Germany
More than 100 Catholic church officials in Germany came out as LGBT, queer or non-binary on Monday, adding to calls for reform within the crisis-hit church.
Demands for a more liberal attitude to homosexuality within the German church have coincided with uproar over reports of widespread child sex abuse by Catholic clergymen in the country, including allegations of cases where former pope Benedict XVI failed to act.
The 125-strong group, which includes priests and workers in education and administration, published a statement demanding an end to the "discrimination and exclusion" they had experienced.
"I don't want to hide my sexual identity any more," Uwe Grau, a priest in the diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, was quoted on the group's website as saying.
"We are part of the church," added Raphaela Soden, who works in pastoral care for young adults and identifies as queer and non-binary. "We always have been. It's time to finally make it clear that we exist and how wonderfully queer the body of Christ is."
The statement called for "free access to all pastoral vocations", and an end to what the signatories called a "system of concealment, double standards, and dishonesty" surrounding LGBT issues.
"Entering into a non-heterosexual relationship or marriage must never be considered a breach of loyalty and, consequently, an obstacle to employment or a reason for dismissal," they said.
The issue of homosexuality has caused a major rift in the Catholic Church between modernisers and conservatives.
Pope Francis is himself ambivalent over the sensitive subject.
The pontiff has stirred controversy with his relatively liberal attitude towards sexual orientation, which is at odds with the beliefs of many conservatives in the church.
"If a person is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge him?" Francis said soon after he became pope in 2013.
Yet the pope sticks firmly to Catholic teaching that marriage is the union between a man and a woman in order to procreate.
He has repeatedly criticised "gender theory" as an "ideological project" that "denies the natural difference between a man and a woman".
And last year, the Vatican reaffirmed that homosexuality was "a sin" and confirmed homosexuals were unable to receive the sacrament of marriage.
In Germany, calls for a more liberal attitude to homosexuality have formed a central pillar of appeals for reform in the church.
Catholics remain Germany's biggest religious community, with 2.2 million members, but church pews are increasingly empty during services.
The crisis has been exacerbated by a string of reports in recent years that have exposed widespread abuse of children by clergymen.
Last week, a damning report on the archdiocese of Munich and Freising found that former pope Benedict XVI knowingly failed to stop four priests accused of child sex abuse in the 1980s.