By Rosie Dawson
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has ruled that the church does not have the authority to approve the blessing of same-sex unions.
The two-page ruling, released on Monday by Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and signed by Pope Francis, came in response to a question (or dubium) about whether the church had the power to authorise such blessings.
“It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage, ” said the CDF statement. It said that same-sex unions “are not ordered to the Creator’s plan” and that God “does not and cannot bless sin”.
The CDF did not reveal who had asked for clarification on the matter. The Vatican has come under pressure to alter its position from some of its own bishops in recent years, most notably from a commission of the German Catholic bishops which declared in 2019 that homosexuality was a “normal form” of sexual identity.
“The document seems aimed at shutting down discussions among German bishops about blessing same-sex couples and at setting a limit on the Pope’s more welcoming approach,” says Christopher Lamb, a columnist for The Tablet.
It says that the church is called to welcome people with homosexual inclinations with respect and sensitivity, but Mr Lamb suggests that “many will feel this jars with a Pope who, although he has consistently upheld the church’s teaching, nevertheless said ‘who am I to judge’ about gay people, and who has called for a church that welcomes everyone.”
Gerard Swan from the LGBT+ body Quest UK, said the statement was unnecessarily hurtful and damaging to many. But he told the Religion Media Centre that the Pope’s behaviour as pastor has to be weighed alongside his role “as a kind of CEO of the organisation who has to sign off on policy issues, even if he experiences some discomfort doing so”.
“We are left hopeful when Francis goes to the very margins of the church and makes statements which are less simplistic, less binary, more cognisant of the incredible diversity of humans on the planet, and which are rooted in social justice and the common dignity that comes from recognition that we are all made in God’s image.”
Jack Valero, co-founder of Catholic Voices and press officer for Opus Dei in London, said: “I’ve always admired the Pope’s ability to love every person while at the same time stick to the Church’s traditional teaching on matters like marriage.
“The statement from the CDF may have been a necessary clarification, but it came with an acknowledgement that the motivation for wanting to bless same-sex unions was a desire to welcome and accompany homosexual people on their faith journey, and that’s why it also added that the declaration does not preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations.”
In the United States, Catholics are deeply divided on the issue. Its Conference of Catholic Bishops is dominated by conservatives, but PRRI polls show that 78 per cent of Hispanic Catholics and 67 per cent of white Catholics support same-sex marriage.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director, of the LGBT New Ways Ministry based in Maryland, argues that the CDF statement is a case of closing the stable door after the horses have bolted. “All this does is to encourage more discussion,” he told the RMC.
He notes that Pope Francis has advocated the devolving of decision-making to local and national churches on matters such as married priests and the giving of communion to divorced and separated people. “Given time I think this may be the route taken on this issue too,” he said.
Christopher Lamb @ctrlamb
Gerard Swan , Quest LGBT+
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry