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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Pope Francis Allows Priests to Bless Same-Sex Couples

A church official said the blessings amounted to “a real development” that nevertheless did not amend “the traditional doctrine of the church about marriage.” The Vatican said Monday that Pope Francis had allowed priests to bless same-sex couples, his most definitive step yet to make the Roman Catholic Church more welcoming to L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics and more reflective of his vision of a more pastoral, and less rigid, church.

The Vatican had long said it could not bless same-sex couples because it would undermine the church doctrine that marriage is only between a man and a woman. But the new rule made clear that a blessing of a same-sex couple was not the same as a marriage sacrament, a formal ceremonial rite. It also stressed that it was not blessing the relationship, and that, to avoid confusion, blessings should not be imparted during or connected to the ceremony of a civil or same-sex union, or when there are “any clothing, gestures or words that are proper to a wedding.” Blessings instead are better imparted, the Vatican says, during a meeting with a priest, a visit to a shrine, during a pilgrimage or as a prayer recited in a group.

The new rule was issued in a declaration, a rare and important Vatican document, by the church’s office on doctrine and introduced by its head, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who said that the declaration did not amend “the traditional doctrine of the church about marriage,” because it allowed no liturgical rite that could be confused with the sacrament of marriage. “It is precisely in this context,” Cardinal Fernández wrote, “that one can understand the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples without officially validating their status or changing in any way the church’s perennial teaching on marriage.”

In his introduction to the declaration, which was signed and approved by Pope Francis, Cardinal Fernández nevertheless acknowledged that broadening the scope of who could receive blessings amounted to “a real development” and an “innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings.” He said the decision was “based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis.” In recent decades, many Christian denominations have decided to allow blessings and marriages of same-sex couples and to ordain openly gay clergy. However debates over the issue have led to conservative breakaways in Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and other churches. The Roman Catholic Church has long been seen as among the least likely to change its stance.

But Francis, who turned 87 on Sunday, has in recent weeks sought to jump-start discussion on the church’s most sensitive topics as he has cracked down on his most incessant conservative critics. The new declaration is something akin to an executive order outside the more deliberative process he has favoured. “The request for a blessing,” the declaration states, “expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live. It is a seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered.” Supporters of a church more welcoming to same-sex couples agreed.

“This new declaration opens the door to nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples, something that had been previously off-limits for bishops, priests and deacons,” said the Rev. James Martin, a prominent advocate for L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics, who have met frequently with Francis, a fellow Jesuit, and talked to him about the church’s need to better recognize L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics. “Along with many priests, I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex unions.” There has been a burst of activity on the L.G.B.T.Q. issue in recent months from the office of the Doctrine of the Faith, run by Cardinal Fernández. It comes after many advocates for L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics were frustrated by a lack of progress, or even recognition, during a major October meeting of bishops and laypeople that will be repeated next year and could potentially lead to major changes in the church. On Oct. 31, Francis approved another document by Cardinal Fernández’s department, making clear that transgender people can be baptized, serve as godparents and be witnesses at church weddings.

Earlier in October, the Vatican released Francis’ private response to doubts from conservative cardinals about the possibility of blessing same-sex couples. Francis instead suggested the blessings were a possibility, seemingly reversing a 2021 Vatican ruling that came down hard against the blessing of gay unions, arguing that God “cannot bless sin.” While the pope then upheld the church’s position that marriage could exist only between a man and a woman, he said that priests should exercise “pastoral charity” when it came to requests for blessings. But Francis also made clear that he did not want the delivering of a blessing to a same-sex couple by an ordained minister to become a simple protocol, as had been the case in parts of the liberal German church that support same-sex blessings. He has urged priests to be open to “channels beyond norms.”

Indeed, the heart of the new declaration, “Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings,” is a resistance to a rigid church, one that excludes people from blessings because they fail doctrinal or moral litmus tests, but also one that turns blessings — including to same-sex couples — into another suffocating formality. Francis wants most of all a spontaneity and closeness to the faithful that he considers vital to the church’s survival. The blessing “should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament,” the declaration states. “Such a ritualization would constitute a serious impoverishment because it would subject a gesture of great value in popular piety to excessive control, depriving ministers of freedom and spontaneity in their pastoral accompaniment of people’s lives.”

It also does not want the blessings to be seen as a substitute for the marriage sacrament for same-sex couples or other couples in “irregular situations.” Conservatives from Africa, where bishops are highly sceptical of the church’s opening to L.G.B.T.Q. people, to North America, where much of the opposition to Pope Francis is financed, expressed reservations.“After today’s statement,” John Oballa, the bishop of Ngong Diocese in Kenya, southwest of the capital, Nairobi, said in an interview Monday, “We are sure many questions will be coming from the congregation” about what all this means. “They will like to know how far this goes, what implications it will have and what it portends for the future.”

LifeSite News, a conservative outlet based in North America, wrote Monday that the document was issued “in contradiction to the unchangeable Catholic teaching that the church cannot bless sinful relationships.” However the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has a large conservative contingent, accepted the new rule, noting that it marked a distinction between sacramental blessings like marriage and a pastoral blessing for people seeing “God’s loving grace in their lives.” “The church’s teaching on marriage has not changed,” said Chieko Noguchi, the conference’s spokesperson. The rules are a clear opening toward L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics.

The declaration notes that the prior judgment from the Vatican, in 2021, stressed that the church did not have the power to bless human relationships that failed to conform with “God’s designs,” including sexual relations outside marriage and same-sex unions that presumed “to be a marriage.” But the new Vatican declaration argued that this was an overly narrow view of blessings, which are intended to evoke God’s presence in all facets of life and can be bestowed on people, objects of worship, places of work, ships and much else. It makes the case that blessings are “a pastoral resource to be valued rather than a risk or a problem.” In a secular era when the church is often on the defensive, the Vatican apparently did not want to deprive itself of one of its most effective tools for connecting with popular piety that Francis sees as critical for the church’s future.

By restricting blessings, the new declaration states, “there is the danger that a pastoral gesture that is so beloved and widespread will be subjected to too many moral prerequisites,” and “overshadow” its intention to express God’s love. It adds: “Thus when people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it. For, those seeking a blessing should not be required to have prior moral perfection.” The issue of blessing same-sex couples has exploded in recent years, especially in Germany, where priests have regularly offered blessings despite Vatican resistance.

“It cannot be overstated how significant the Vatican’s new declaration is,” Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that advocates for gay Catholics, said in a statement. He welcomed the pope’s decision not to make blessings subject to a moral litmus test, which he called a step “to overturn the harsh policing of pastoral care” by his predecessors. Francis, who has received official expressions of doubt on his teaching on the issue from conservative critics, but who is also under constant pressure from liberals in Germany on blessing same-sex unions, seemed done with the issue. “Beyond the guidance provided above,” the declaration states, “no further responses should be expected about possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type.”

Written by Jason Horowitz, the Rome bureau chief for The Times, covering Italy, the Vatican, Greece and other parts of Southern Europe. Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reporting from Kenya


The opinions and views expressed in this write-up are entirely those of the Writer(s). They do not reflect the opinions and views of the Publisher (Nze Ikay’s Blog) or any of its employees. The designations employed in this publication and the presentation of materials herein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the Publisher (Nze Ikay’s Blog) or its employees concerning the legal status of any country, its authority, area or territory or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers. Equally, the sketches, images, pictures and videos are gotten from the public domain.

Nigeria is an Enigma. The capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of her is undoubtedly God’s endowment to us, her citizens. As a citizen of this lovely nation, I’ve spent decades of my life trying to understand this, Mirage. Hope someday, this Mystery that houses about 250 million blacks will be globally understood, widely accepted, and given the opportunity to play its vital role in the world stage. So, help us God! #NigeriaDeservesBetter #AfricaDeservesBetter

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