Monday, December 18, 2023

Pope Francis Okays Blessing of Gay Couples? Not Quite!

Today the media went into a frenzy. "Pope approves same-sex blessings" were the hooks being shared on social media. On the television, reporters looked elated at the news and even the Late Night's Stephen Colbert showed glee announcing this news as the crowd gave an extended applause to the pope. Father James Martin of the Jesuit order and "liberal" Catholic accounts also showed their celebratory posts on social media. So what happened?  Did the Vatican and Pope really approve of same-sex blessings? The answer is "yes" and no. 

Before Catholics panic or others laugh at the Catholic Church believing we are contradicting ourselves, the Church is not blessing same-sex unions directly. They are doing what they always have done, bless individuals who request a blessing. Everyone can receive a blessing. This is not news. What is making news is the emphasis being made by the media and so-called "liberal or progressive" Catholics who are presenting this news from an LGBTQIA lens. The CDF released a Declaration entitled Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings today. It is an answer to several dubias sent to Rome by some prelates.  The declaration is not solely about same-sex unions. It is focused on "irregular situations."  The phrase "Same-sex" is mentioned only three times.  Fiducia Supplicans was written to answer questions about who can receive blessings.  For quite some time now, some clerics have refused to bless people in irregular situations. An irregular situation is when someone is in a situation that is not morally acceptable. For example, a couple living together without being married, a couple with a child out of wedlock, a same-sex couple, a couple divorced civilly, and so forth.  These situations are often difficult to deal with in a pastoral sense.

Pope Francis since the onset of his pontificate has focused on mercy. He wants the Church to be merciful and reach out to those on the peripherals as he has often stated. He wants bishops and priests to acquire the "scent of their sheep," in other words, to mingle with them and minister to them.  Pope Francis more than any other pope has done a lot to reach out to those often pushed aside, even by the Church. This shepherding has brought him many enemies, especially from those who called themselves "traditionalists." They feel the pope is a modernist seeking to turn the Church into an "anything goes" institution.  Pope Francis wants all people to know of Christ and His mercy. He wants everyone to come to Christ the best they can even those who are in these irregular situations which are often hard to resolve.  Same-sex unions are probably the most difficult to deal with because both parties feel they are "in love" and that their relationship is equal to that of a heterosexual couple "in love."  What are we to say to these people? Do we tell them they have to split and stop seeing each other and live a celibate life?  This is easier said than done. Things are not always black and white so to speak. In light of this, the Church is chipping away at these difficult situations by confirming that same-sex couples can be blessed along with other irregular situations people find themselves in.  

Now, this does not mean the pope is giving the okay to bless same-sex unions per se. He is stating that individuals can be blessed even if they are in irregular situations. No longer can some rigid clerics dismiss these people in irregular situations as pariahs. They have to bless them, but with prudence of course; analyzing the situation carefully. The Church is not blessing same-sex unions as a thing, only the persons in them. God cannot bless sin. God cannot bless a union that contradicts His will. The Catholic Church cannot change this any more than she can change the law of gravity.  A gay couple can be blessed as two individual persons, not the gay union itself.  Blessing a same-sex union itself goes against the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith which said in 2003, 

"In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection." (
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html)


So clearly, the Church still has to resist any attempt to redefine marriage and cannot endorse same-sex unions.  However, she can bless those in them directly as individuals. This has always been the case.  Many are asking why do we need to be told this again? Well, it is 2023, language has changed. The Church needed to repeat the message for today's audience while adhering to the teachings of the Church which can never change. This is how doctrine develops.  It does not change but uses language for the current age to make Church teaching clearer. Fiducia Supplicans reaffirms that marriage can only be between one man and one woman.  It states clearly:

4. Pope Francis’ recent response to the second of the five questions posed by two Cardinals[4] offers an opportunity to explore this issue further, especially in its pastoral implications. It is a matter of avoiding that “something that is not marriage is being recognized as marriage.”[5] Therefore, rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage—which is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children”[6]—and what contradicts it are inadmissible. This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage; it is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.

5. This is also the understanding of marriage that is offered by the Gospel. For this reason, when it comes to blessings, the Church has the right and the duty to avoid any rite that might contradict this conviction or lead to confusion. Such is also the meaning of the Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which states that the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex.

6. It should be emphasized that in the Rite of the Sacrament of Marriage, this concerns not just any blessing but a gesture reserved to the ordained minister. In this case, the blessing given by the ordained minister is tied directly to the specific union of a man and a woman, who establish an exclusive and indissoluble covenant by their consent. This fact allows us to highlight the risk of confusing a blessing given to any other union with the Rite that is proper to the Sacrament of Marriage.

The document continues stating that there cannot be any confusion or mingling done with the blessing to make it seem like a marriage or an approval or legitimization of the union:

31. Within the horizon outlined here appears the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex, the form of which should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage. In such cases, a blessing may be imparted that not only has an ascending value but also involves the invocation of a blessing that descends from God upon those who—recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of his help—do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. These forms of blessing express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit—what classical theology calls “actual grace”—so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love.

You can read the entire document here: https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/12/18/0901/01963.html#en.  

So as you can see, the Pope and the Catholic Church is not endorsing so-called gay marriage or same-sex unions or anything of the like. They are simply repeating the Church's teaching that anyone can be blessed. They are blessing the sinner but not the sin, so to speak. The media and other malicious Catholics have been trying all day to push this story as a change in the Catholic Church's teaching or presenting the pope as some new reformer introducing "modern and updated right-with-the-times" innovations. This is far from the truth. 

Again, the document reaffirms marriage between one man and one woman, warns clerics not to use this blessing as a form of the Marriage rite or a parallel form of a Marriage rite existing alongside the normative one, and reaffirms God's mercy and the need to right things little by little on the spiritual course of life.  

The Catholic Church has no authority to bless same-sex unions, so-called gay marriage, divorce anyone, or endorse homosexual acts.  We can bless individual sinners even if they are a couple, but not sin. 

In 1 Cor. 6:9-11, St. Paul says:  

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

St. Paul is the man who was formerly known as Saul.  He persecuted Christians until Christ appeared before him and converted him.  (see Acts 9)  So since Christ converted him and gave him a mandate, Paul's words are valid.  Notice how he tells us who will not inherit the kingdom of God.   He mentions effeminate and homosexual people.  He continues that some of them lived those lifestyles but were 'washed, sanctified and justified in the Lord Jesus Christ and Spirit of God.'   This basically means that among the people he was preaching to there were some who lived this sinful lifestyle.  But, they changed- they converted and stopped.  

God loves everyone yes, but He does not love Sin.  Homosexuality is a lifestyle that causes great friction in the relationship between God and a Soul.  It is one of the Sins that cries out to God for vengeance (Genesis 18:20).  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of the homosexual behavior among its citizens (Jude 5-7)

God Himself said it is an abomination (Lev. 18:22, 29)  This does not sound like God accepts everyone and everything they do.  In reality, God requires us to follow His Commandments and Will.  Jesus taught us the Our Father prayer that says, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  It is not about us, it is about God.  

Jesus would never condone Homosexuality because it would go against the Word He gave us in the Scriptures.  God is Truth and immutable, He cannot contradict Himself.  

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear on Homosexuality:

2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,141 tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered."142 They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.

2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.

Fiducia Supplicans clearly states that this blessing is solely pastoral and not ritual or lutirgical.  It cannot be done in a church setting such as in front of the sanctuary or altar.  Despite this, many bishops and Catholics in general have voiced their concerns regarding the optics and misinterpretation of the blessing.  Bishops in regions where homosexuality is criminalized such as Africa have voiced concern that blessing same-sex couples may signal to secular authorities that the Church is in defiance.  Cardinal Fernandez and the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith did not think these variables through.  We shall see what happens next.

UPDATE January 4, 2024

Cardinal Fernandez and the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith have just issued a press release concerning the reception of Fiducia Supplicans:




Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith
Press release concerning the reception of Fiducia supplicans


4 January 2024


We are writing this Press Release to help clarify the reception of Fiducia supplicans, while recommending at the same time a full and calm reading of the Declaration so as to better understand its meaning and purpose.


1. Doctrine


The understandable statements of some Episcopal Conferences regarding the document Fiducia supplicans have the value of highlighting the need for a more extended period of pastoral reflection. What is expressed by these Episcopal Conferences cannot be interpreted as doctrinal opposition, because the document is clear and definitive about marriage and sexuality. There are several indisputable phrases in the Declaration that leave this in no doubt:


«This Declaration remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion». One acts in these situations of couples in irregular situations «without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage» (Presentation).


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


«Such is also the meaning of the Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which states that the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex» (5).


«For this reason, since the Church has always considered only those sexual relations that are lived out within marriage to be morally licit, the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice» (11).


Evidently, there is no room to distance ourselves doctrinally from this Declaration or to consider it heretical, contrary to the Tradition of the Church or blasphemous.



2. Practical reception


Some Bishops, however, express themselves in particular regarding a practical aspect: the possible blessings of couples in irregular situations. The Declaration contains a proposal for short and simple pastoral blessings (neither liturgical nor ritualised) of couples in irregular situations (but not of their unions), underlining that these are blessings without a liturgical format which neither approve nor justify the situation in which these people find themselves.


Documents of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith such as Fiducia supplicans, in their practical aspects, may require more or less time for their application depending on local contexts and the discernment of each diocesan Bishop with his Diocese. In some places no difficulties arise for their immediate application, while in others it will be necessary not to introduce them, while taking the time necessary for reading and interpretation.


Some Bishops, for example, have established that each priest must carry out the work of discernment and that he may, however, perform these blessings only in private. None of this is problematic if it is expressed with due respect for a text signed and approved by the Supreme Pontiff himself, while attempting in some way to accommodate the reflection contained in it.


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


3. The delicate situation of some countries


The cases of some Episcopal Conferences must be understood in their contexts. In several countries there are strong cultural and even legal issues that require time and pastoral strategies that go beyond the short term.


If there are laws that condemn the mere act of declaring oneself as a homosexual with prison and in some cases with torture and even death, it goes without saying that a blessing would be imprudent. It is clear that the Bishops do not wish to expose homosexual persons to violence. It remains vital that these Episcopal Conferences do not support a doctrine different from that of the Declaration signed by the Pope, given that it is perennial doctrine, but rather that they recommend the need for study and discernment so as to act with pastoral prudence in such a context.


In truth, there are not a few countries that, to varying degrees, condemn, prohibit and criminalize homosexuality. In these cases, apart from the question of blessings, there exists a great and wide-ranging pastoral responsibility that includes training, the defense of human dignity, the teaching of the Social Doctrine of the Church and various strategies that do not admit of a rushed response.



4. The real novelty of the document


The real novelty of this Declaration, the one that requires a generous effort of reception and from which no one should declare themselves excluded, is not the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations. It is the invitation to distinguish between two different forms of blessings: “liturgical or ritualized” and “spontaneous or pastoral”. The Presentation clearly explains that «the value of this document […] is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, permitting a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings, which is closely linked to a liturgical perspective». This «theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church».


In the background is found the positive evaluation of “popular pastoral care” which appears in many of the Holy Father’s texts. In this context, the Holy Father invites us to value the simple faith of the People of God who, even in the midst of their sins, emerge from their everyday lives and open their hearts to ask for God’s help.


For this reason, rather than the blessing of couples in irregular unions, the text of the Dicastery has adopted the other profile of a “Declaration”, which is much more than a responsum or a letter. The central theme, which invites us especially to a deeper pastoral practice which enriches our pastoral praxis, is to have a broader understanding of blessings and of the proposal that these pastoral blessings, which do not require the same conditions as blessings in a liturgical or ritual context, flourish. Consequently, leaving polemics aside, the text requires an effort to reflect serenely, with the heart of shepherds, free from all ideology.


Although some Bishops consider it prudent not to impart these blessings for the moment, we all need to grow equally in the conviction that: non-ritualized blessings are not a consecration of the person nor of the couple who receives them, they are not a justification of all their actions, and they are not an endorsement of the life that they lead. When the Pope asked us to grow in a broader understanding of pastoral blessings, he proposed that we think of a way of blessing that does not require the placing of so many conditions to carry out this simple gesture of pastoral closeness, which is a means of promoting openness to God in the midst of the most diverse circumstances.


5. How do these “pastoral blessings” present themselves in concrete terms?


To be clearly distinguished from liturgical or ritualized blessings, “pastoral blessings” must above all be very short (see n. 38). These are blessings lasting a few seconds, without an approved ritual and without a book of blessings. If two people approach together to seek the blessing, one simply asks the Lord for peace, health and other good things for these two people who request it. At the same time, one asks that they may live the Gospel of Christ in full fidelity and so that the Holy Spirit can free these two people from everything that does not correspond to his divine will and from everything that requires purification.


This non-ritualized form of blessing, with the simplicity and brevity of its form, does not intend to justify anything that is not morally acceptable. Obviously it is not a marriage, but equally it is not an “approval” or ratification of anything either. It is solely the response of a pastor towards two persons who ask for God’s help. Therefore, in this case, the pastor does not impose conditions and does not enquire about the intimate lives of these people.


Since some have raised the question of what these blessings might look like, let us look at a concrete example: let us imagine that among a large number making a pilgrimage a couple of divorced people, now in a new union, say to the priest: “Please give us a blessing, we cannot find work, he is very ill, we do not have a home and life is becoming very difficult: may God help us!”.


In this case, the priest can recite a simple prayer like this: “Lord, look at these children of yours, grant them health, work, peace and mutual help. Free them from everything that contradicts your Gospel and allow them to live according to your will. Amen”. Then it concludes with the sign of the cross on each of the two persons.


We are talking about something that lasts about 10 or 15 seconds. Does it make sense to deny these kinds of blessings to these two people who ask for them? Is it not more appropriate to support their faith, whether it be small or great, to assist them in their weaknesses with a divine blessing, and to channel that openness to transcendence which could lead them to be more faithful to the Gospel?


In order to avoid any doubt, the Declaration adds that, when the blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, «even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple» (n. 39). It remains clear, therefore, that the blessing must not take place in a prominent place within a sacred building, or in front of an altar, as this also would create confusion.


For this reason, every Bishop in his Diocese is authorized by the Declaration Fiducia supplicans to make this type of simple blessing available, bearing in mind the need for prudence and care, but in no way is he authorized to propose or make blessings available that may resemble a liturgical rite.


6. Catechesis


In some places, perhaps, some catechesis will be necessary that can help everyone to understand that these types of blessings are not an endorsement of the life led by those who request them. Even less are they an absolution, as these gestures are far from being a sacrament or a rite. They are simple expressions of pastoral closeness that do not impose the same requirements as a sacrament or a formal rite. We will all have to become accustomed to accepting the fact that, if a priest gives this type of simple blessings, he is not a heretic, he is not ratifying anything nor is he denying Catholic doctrine.


We can help God’s People to discover that these kinds of blessings are just simple pastoral channels that help people give expression to their faith, even if they are great sinners. For this reason, in giving a blessing to two people who come together to ask for it spontaneously, we are not consecrating them nor are we congratulating them nor indeed are we approving that type of union. In reality the same happens when individuals are blessed, as the individual who asks for a blessing – not absolution – could be a great sinner, but this does not mean we deny him this paternal gesture in the midst of his struggle to survive.


If this is clarified as a result of good catechesis, we can free ourselves from the fear that these blessings of ours may express something inadequate. We can be freer and perhaps closer and more fruitful ministers, with a ministry that is full of gestures of fatherhood and hospitality, without fear of being misunderstood.


We ask the newly-born Lord to shower a generous and gracious blessing upon everyone so that we can live a holy and happy 2024.


Víctor Manuel Card. Fernández
Prefect


Mons. Armando Matteo
Secretary for the Doctrinal Section

Source: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2024-01/dicastery-for-the-doctrine-of-the-faith-on-fiducia-supplicans.html



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Source:

https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/12/18/0901/01963.html#en

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/vatican-city/news/2023-12/fiducia-supplicans-doctrine-faith-blessing-irregular-couples.html

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/256308/vatican-says-priests-can-bless-same-sex-couples-without-condoning-their-lifestyles

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/pope-francis-allows-priests-to-bless-same-sex-couples/ar-AA1lGhyK?ocid=socialshare&cvid=b1e1d7c2e2fe47fdb3f643c61fc03a8a&ei=23





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