Blocked last year for his views on sexuality, theologian gets green light to head academy

While the Vatican never stated its objections to the Rev. Martin Lintner’s appointment, his writings on LGBTQ+ and queer issues were called into question.

The Rev. Martin Lintner. (Video screen grab)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Nearly a year after the Vatican blocked an Italian theologian’s candidacy to become the dean of an influential German and Italian academy due to his progressive writings on sexuality and gender, the Vatican finally approved of his appointment without comment, according to the theologian.

“The reasons why the decision was revised were not communicated,” said the Rev. Martin Lintner, in an email to RNS, adding that “the matter was clarified internally.”

“The important thing for me is that my publications are obviously not a stumbling block,” he said.


Bishop Ivo Muser of Bolzano-Bressanone, whose diocese includes the Philosophical-Theological College of Brixen/Bressanone, was notified of the Vatican’s approval shortly after Easter. Lintner is scheduled to begin his tenure as dean of the university on Sept. 1.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith denied Lintner’s appointment as dean at the school in the German-speaking region of northern Italy after the faculty elected him in November 2022.

Muser, who also oversees the university, took matters into his own hands after six months of silence from the Vatican about granting a nihil obstat, a church protocol whose Latin name means “nothing obstructs.” It is a necessary approval indicating that a theologian’s work does not constitute a breach with Catholic thought.

The nihil obstat is normally issued by the Vatican department for education, but the bishop was surprised to discover in January 2023 that the application had been halted by the Vatican’s Department for the Doctrine of the Faith, which ensures conformity with church teaching.

Lintner registered a complaint about a “lack of transparency,” given that the official reason for the denial was not communicated. “My bishop was told verbally by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith that my publications on questions of sexual morality would pose a problem,” Lintner said.

Lintner, of the Order of the Servants of Mary, or the Servites, has specialized in studies on animals and the environment, but also questions regarding sexuality and gender. He has called for reform of the church’s teaching on sexual morality, particularly regarding queer and transgender perspectives, saying that, instead of offering a list of “don’ts,” the church needs to engage with younger generations.


“I already had a conflict with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2012 after I published a book on sexual morality. These topics, and especially the theological and ethical discussion of gender studies, still seem to be difficult terrain,” Lintner said.

Lintner’s reflections might have been a red flag in some Vatican offices in themselves, but the denial of his appointment was also likely motivated by the Philosophical-Theological College of Brixen/Bressanone’s close relationship with the church in Germany, which is locked in a theological arm-wrestle with the Vatican over female inclusion in the church, outreach to LGBTQ+ faithful and lay leadership.

The church in Germany has recently concluded a set of discussions known as the Synodal Way, in which Catholic bishops and lay organizations considered challenges facing local churches. While bearing a similar name, it has no connection to Pope Francis’ Synod on Synodality, a multi-year process of dialogue and engagement with catholic churches and lay faithful all over the world.

The tensions between the Vatican and the Synodal Path became apparent when the German church began blessing same-sex couples despite a Vatican declaration banning the practice. The appointment of Lintner, who supports the blessing of same-sex couples and works closely with German moral theologians, likely raised some concerns within the Vatican walls.

In a written statement after the Vatican’s refusal in 2023, Lintner wrote that the decision questioned the Vatican’s commitment to synodality and its promise to promote dialogue, transparency and welcoming. 

In a speech at the Pontifical Theological Academy in Rome in November, Francis told a group of theologians that the church needed to embrace “a brave cultural revolution” and let go of “abstractly rehashing formulas and patterns from the past.” 


In his email, Lintner said, “I have the impression that not all Vatican departments are happy about it. The reform of the Curia is also not met with approval everywhere in the Vatican.” He said that he believed Francis’ reform efforts have resulted in some hopeful change.

The flap over Lintner’s appointment came as Francis has reordered the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, appointing as its head Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who in the past was denied a nihil obstat for his writings on sexuality and marriage. As a bishop, Francis helped him obtain the approval he needed from the Vatican, just as Muser lobbied for Lintner today.



Since his appointment in July 2023, Fernandez has issued decrees allowing for the blessing of same-sex couples under certain limitations and stating that trans faithful may be baptized and act as godparents. But he has also reinforced the church’s opposition to gender theory, surrogacy and sex-change operations.

For Lintner, criticizing Catholic teaching needs to take place with humility and fidelity to the church’s Magisterium, or traditional teaching. Opening up discussions in the field of theology is essential to the betterment of the church, he explained, while adding that as he prepares to take on his new role, he is looking forward to putting the past behind.

“When I criticize, it is in order to make a contribution to the further development of doctrine in constructive fidelity to tradition,” he said. “I am convinced that this has been recognized and positively appreciated in the educational dicastery.”




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