Homosexuality, contraception, sex outside of marriage: the Catholic Church struggles with many issues that have long been openly discussed in society. Suppress or ban instead of enlightening - that often seems to be the motto of church leaders. A study published by the Münster diocese last year also accused the church of a lack of sexual education. The fatal thing about it: It is precisely this deficiency that is one of the causes of sexualized violence and abuse, according to one finding of the study. The diocese of Münster then commissioned a consultant for sexual education. Ann-Kathrin Kahle has been in office since summer 2022.
WORLD: Ms. Kahle, which target group do you have in mind?
Ann-Kathrin Kahle: We turn to the approximately 1,500 ministers, priests and pastoral officers who work full-time with children, young people and adults.
WORLD: How do you want to reach these people?
Kahle: At the moment I'm getting an overview of the programs that already exist on the subject of sexuality. I speak to those responsible for the training of priests and chaplains. Sexuality has been a topic in their curricula for many years.
WORLD: The pressure to act is enormous, if you think of the many victims of sexualized violence in the Catholic Church.
Kahle: We're not starting from scratch. A body was set up ten years ago to develop preventive measures to protect against sexualised violence. We have reached almost 50,000 people with the training courses in recent years. Not only priests and pastors, but also, for example, all teachers at Catholic schools. A lot has happened there.
WORLD: Nevertheless, new cases of abuse have become known in recent years. Why is the church responding now with the new sex education agency?
Kahle: Sexual education is neither education in the classic sense nor prevention training. We develop a comprehensive understanding of sexuality. Violence and abuse are part of that.
WORLD: What does that mean specifically?
Kahle: When they hear the word sexuality, everyone thinks they know what it means. But there is no social consensus on this. My starting point is the premise that we are all sexual beings. How did I become the person I am today - also in relation to sexuality - that is the key question. When dealing with each other, it plays an essential role to think about one's own sexual identity and to understand it as life energy. We want to change the way our society views sexuality. The sexual education that I stand for relies heavily on self-determination, including the sexual self-determination of every human being.
WORLD: Does that also include the recognition of the different sexual identities of homosexual or transsexual people?
Kahle: That's the basis from which I think and act.
WORLD: In Catholic teaching, these forms of life are considered “unnatural”, as are extramarital sex and contraception. They are employees of the diocese. Do you agree with Bishop Genn of Munster?
Kahle: It is true that this attitude does not necessarily correspond to the tradition of the teaching of the Catholic Church. But our bishop has also repeatedly emphasized that teaching must continue to develop, in dialogue with the reality of people's lives and the humanities. I also work with an open visor. It was very clear to the bishop that if he wanted to win me for this position, then it was about the primacy of self-determination of people in recognition of the same rights for others.
WORLD: But most of the terrible acts of sexualized violence are still not cleared up. Much was swept under the carpet. And there is still sexual abuse and discrimination in the Catholic Church.
Kahle: From my point of view, the description is not correct. A lot has happened in the Catholic Church in recent years in terms of coming to terms with the past. Much has also changed significantly with regard to discrimination based on sexual orientation. At the same time, of course, there is still a need for action, and these problem areas are also being followed up in prevention. But we want to take into account that sexuality has many facets that are life-friendly and that can lead people to happiness.
WORLD: But the Roman Catholic Church does not even give its priests the power to bless marriages between people of the same sex.
Kahle: In some dioceses, including here in Münster, attempts are being made to reconcile the teachings of the church with the reality of people's lives. In some communities we have come a long way. Many current topics have long since arrived there. I was recently at a youth pastoral conference on the Lower Rhine. There, the employees intensively discussed the topic of transsexuality and transidentity, because there are young people in the communities who do not feel comfortable with their ascribed gender identity. Bishop Felix Genn has also made it very clear that there are no consequences or sanctions against priests who behave as they see fit based on their pastoral mission and their conscience in serving the people.
WORLD: Isn't the rigid sexual morality of the Catholic Church the core of the problem?
Kahle: Where are the people who still follow the guidelines of the church, such as "sexual intercourse only in marriage"? In moral theology we have had concepts on the subject of sexuality and relationship ethics for many years. The Catholic Church is in a difficult situation, because at its core, Christianity is neither hostile to the body nor hostile to sexuality. It just evolved that way over time. In the Bible we also read about the healings that Jesus performed, which took place through touch. And in Christianity, don't we also talk about the incarnation of God?
WORLD: Would Bishop Genn sign it like that?
Bald: I think so. However, it is not the case that I have to have every statement that I make from my professional perspective first 'sanctioned' by the bishop. I think it is courageous for the diocese to set up this position and thus present it to the public. We should appeal to our Christian values. In addition to critical voices, we mainly receive encouragement for this.
Ann-Kathrin Kahle was born in Marl in 1964. From 1984 to 1989 she studied social work at the Münster University of Applied Sciences and Catholic theology at the Westphalian Wilhelms University. Since 2000, Kahle has been a member of the social service for Catholic women and the prevention officer for sexualized violence in the diocese of Münster. Since June 2022 she has been a consultant for sexual education there.