Blessing of homosexual couples: The Vatican responds to criticism

Blessing of homosexual couples: The Vatican responds to criticism

Press release to help clarify receipt of Fiducia supplicans, recommending a complete and careful reading of the Declaration to better understand the meaning of its proposal.

1. Doctrine

The comprehensible statements of certain episcopal conferences in relation to the document Fiducia supplicans have the merit of highlighting the need for a longer period of pastoral reflection. What these episcopal conferences expressed cannot be interpreted as doctrinal opposition because the document is clear and classic on marriage and sexuality. Several strong sentences in the Declaration leave no room for doubt:

“This statement remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church regarding marriage, not authorizing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that could lead to confusion”. We act, faced with couples in an irregular situation, “without officially validating their status or modifying in any way the perennial teaching of the Church on marriage” (Presentation).

“Rites and prayers which could create confusion between what constitutes marriage, namely “an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children”, are inadmissible. which contradicts it. This conviction is based on the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage. It is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper and fully human meaning. The doctrine of the Church on this point remains firm.”(4).

“This is also the meaning of the Responsum of the ancient Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, when it affirms that the Church does not have the power to grant blessings to unions between persons of the same sex”(5).

“This is why, given that the Church has always considered as morally licit only sexual relations experienced within the framework of marriage, she does not have the power to confer her liturgical blessing when this can, of a in a certain way, offering a form of moral legitimacy to a union which presents itself as a marriage or to an extramarital sexual practice”(11).

It is clear that there would be no room to distance oneself doctrinally from this Declaration or to consider it heretical, contrary to the Tradition of the Church or blasphemous.

2. Convenient reception

However, some bishops speak mainly on a practical aspect: the possible blessings of couples in an irregular situation. The Declaration contains the proposal for brief and simple pastoral blessings (neither liturgical nor ritualized) of couples in an irregular situation (and not unions), it being understood that these are blessings without liturgical form which neither approve nor justify the situation in which these people find themselves.

The documents of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, such as Fiducia supplicans, may require, in their practical aspects, more or less time for their application depending on local contexts depending on the discernment of each diocesan bishop in his own diocese. In some places, there is no difficulty for immediate application, elsewhere, it is necessary not to innovate while taking the necessary time for reading and interpretation.

Some bishops, for example, have established that each priest can discern but can only realize these blessings in private. This does not pose a problem if it is expressed in compliance with a text signed and approved by the Sovereign Pontiff himself while seeking to accommodate the reflection it contains.

Each local bishop, by virtue of his own function, always has the power of discernment in loco, in this concrete place that he knows better than others because it is his flock. Prudence and attention to the ecclesial context and local culture could admit different modalities of application, but not a total or definitive negation of this path proposed to priests.

3. The delicate situation of certain countries

The case of certain episcopal conferences must be understood in its context. In different countries, there are strong cultural and even legal issues that require time and pastoral strategies that go beyond the short term.

If there is legislation that condemns the simple fact of declaring oneself homosexual to imprisonment and, in certain cases, torture or even death, we understand that a blessing would be imprudent. It is obvious that the bishops do not want to expose homosexual people to violence. What is important is that these episcopal conferences do not defend a doctrine different from that of the Declaration approved by the Pope, since it is the established doctrine, but rather they propose the need for study and discernment in order to act with pastoral prudence in this context.

In truth, countries that condemn, ban, and criminalize homosexuality to varying degrees are not uncommon. In these cases, beyond the question of blessings, there is a pastoral task, vast and long-term, which includes formation, the defense of human dignity, the teaching of the social doctrine of the Church and various strategies that do not admit haste.

4. The real novelty of the document

The real novelty of this Declaration, the one which requires a generous effort to receive it and from which no one should declare themselves excluded, is not the possibility of blessing couples in an irregular situation. It is the invitation to distinguish two different forms of blessings: “liturgical or ritualized” And“spontaneous or pastoral”. In the Presentation, it is clearly explained that “the value of this document, (…), is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, which makes it possible to broaden and enrich the classical understanding, closely linked to a liturgical perspective. This theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, implies a real development in relation to what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church”.

In the background we find the positive evaluation of the “popular pastoral” which appears in numerous texts of the Holy Father. In this context, he invites us to valorize the simple faith of the people of God who, even in the midst of their sins, emerges from immanence and opens their hearts to ask God’s help.

This is why, rather than referring to the blessing of couples in an irregular situation, the text of the Dicastery has adopted the high profile of a Declaration which is much more than a Responsum or just a Letter. Its central theme, which invites us above all to a deepening which enriches our pastoral practice, is the broader understanding of blessings and the proposal to increase pastoral blessings which do not require the same conditions as blessings in a liturgical or ritual context. Consequently, beyond the controversies, this text calls for an effort of serene reflection, with a pastor’s heart, outside of all ideology.

Even if some bishops consider it prudent, for the moment, not to give these blessings, we must all grow in the conviction that non-ritualized blessings are not a consecration of the person or couple who receives them, they are not a justification for all their actions, they are not a ratification of the life he leads. When the Pope asked us to grow in a broader understanding of pastoral blessings, he suggested that we think of a way of blessing that does not require setting many conditions for this simple gesture of pastoral closeness which is a resource for promoting openness to God in the midst of the most diverse circumstances.

6. Catechesis

Perhaps in some places a catechesis will be necessary to make people understand that this type of blessing is not a ratification of the life led by those who ask for it. They are even less an absolution because these gestures are far from being a sacrament or a rite. They are simple expressions of pastoral closeness that do not have the same requirements as a formal sacrament or rite. We will have to get used to accepting that if a priest gives this kind of simple blessing, he is not heretic, he is not ratifying anything and he is not denying Catholic doctrine.

We can help God’s people discover that these kinds of blessings are simple pastoral channels that help people manifest their faith, even if they are great sinners. Therefore, by giving this blessing to two people who spontaneously approach to implore it, we do not consecrate them, we do not congratulate them and we do not approve of this type of union. In reality, it is the same when we bless individuals, because the individual who asks for a blessing – and not absolution – may be a great sinner, but we do not refuse him, for this reason, this paternal gesture in the midst of his struggle to survive.

If this is informed by good catechesis, we can free ourselves from the fear that our blessings express something inadequate. We could be freer and perhaps closer and more fruitful ministers, with a ministry full of gestures of paternity and proximity, without fear of being misunderstood.

Let us ask the newborn Lord to shower a generous and free blessing on all, so that we can experience a holy and happy year 2024.

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