Pope Francis affirms the spiritual value of blessings of same gender couples in Church sanctioned ceremonies on a case-by-case basis when judged pastorally appropriate.
In a letter, released by the Vatican on Oct. 2, Francis states that priests, directed by pastoral charitynot by dictatorial judgments which deny, reject and excludeshould discern whether there are appropriate forms of blessings that do not confuse the blessing ritual with marriage.
The letter, dated Sept. 25 and issued by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, the Vatican's new chief of doctrine, responded to a letter written to Francis in July by five reactionary Cardinals, who, dissatisfied by a previous response of Francis to their questions, demanded clear answers from Francis on a list of issues they presented to him as "dubia" (Latin for "doubts").
According to the prelates, these dubia arose because of varying interpretations of teachings pronounced by Francis and the Vatican, especially as articulated in his apostolic exhortation "Amoris Laetitia" (Latin for "joy of love") published March 2016. They were particularly concerned with teachings on same-gender blessings and the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Dubia are questions presented to a teaching authority of the Catholic Church that demand a simple "yes" or "no" response in order to clarify disputed matters of Catholic teaching and practice.
The timing of the release of Francis' response to the five cardinalsGerman Cardinal Walter Brandmuller,, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, and Chinese Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiunis of special importance because it occurs just before the opening in Rome Oct. 4 of Session One of the Synod of Bishops, which reviews the input generated by a worldwide synodal process initiated by Francis in March 2021 to address the most pressing issues facing the Church in the contemporary world. The second and final Session of the Synod of Bishops is scheduled in Rome for October 2024.
The tone and content of Francis's response to the dubia affirms the essential message of Francis that the teachings of Jesus the Christ are concerned primarily with the care of persons and their guidance to communion with God. Politically, Francis is signaling to the participants in the synodal process that pastoral care is the guiding spirit of their work. Francis is moving the Church from a doctrinaire organization more concerned about protecting its own privileges and power to a caring community motivated by the teachings of Jesus to care for the least of the brethren.
Cardinal Burke has already commented on Francis's letter, asserting that it suggests homosexual acts can be good and are not contrary to moral law. Francis's letter seems to be a softening of the doctrinal statement published by the Vatican in 2021 prohibiting the blessing of LGBTQ+ couples because God "cannot bless sin."
In March of this year, Germany's liberal Catholic bishops defied the Vatican ban by voting in favor of adopting formal ceremonies to bless same-gender relationships. In late September, several priests held a group blessing ceremony for same-gender couples outside the cathedral of Cologne, Germany.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ Catholics, stated that the pope's response "implies that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples."
Conservative bishops have warned that this issue, along with the issue of ordaining women as priests, could precipitate a schism in the Catholic Church, as it has caused in the Anglican Churches. Some conservatives worry that the synodal process itself can cause confusion and errors regarding Church doctrine and practice because of the significant participation of lay people and women in the procedures.
In the United States, over 700,000 Catholics participated in the diocesan synods. Worldwide 112 of 114 Catholic Bishops Conferences conducted synods involving millions of participants. Francis has appointed 54 womenwith the right to speak and voteto the Synod of Bishops that opens in Rome October 04.
It is good to keep in mind that the Catholic Church is over 2,000 years old and has always had a variety of spiritualities for assisting people to find God in ways best suited to their needs and cultures. As John Boswell and many other scholars have pointed out, Church sanctioned blessings of same-gender couples is not new to the Catholic Church: Such rituals flourished in Celtic and Eastern Christian traditions.
Reminding Catholics to focus on the love of Jesus for all persons is always a good idea.
The Oct. 2 letter is written in Spanish and signed by Francis. You can read the unofficial full English translation of Francis's responses to the dubia at tinyurl.com/8f39kxmd .
My Windy City Times op-ed on the blessing ceremony in Germany is at tinyurl.com/4tpzzytv .
Loyola Press has an excellent descriptive statement on synods and synodal process in the Catholic Church at tinyurl.com/mtfm6mns .