The Vatican recently ruled that unions between same-sex people cannot be blessed.
By Gerry O’Shea
A few weeks ago, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) in the Vatican issued a universal edict refusing a church blessing for homosexual partners as part of the wedding ceremony.
Their stated reasoning for this blanket rejection focuses on the alleged sinfulness of gay sexual intimacy which the Vatican statement claims God could never bless.
Early in his pontificate, on the plane back from a successful trip to Brazil, Pope Francis responded to a question about homosexuality by asking, “Who am I to judge?” He wondered why he should condemn a gay person of goodwill doing his or her best to live a decent life.
This is hardly a controversial statement; it would win approval in almost any company. However, the Catholic Church maintains a different perspective.
Francis’ predecessor, Benedict, described the homosexual lifestyle as “objectively disordered,” and before him, John Paul II denounced the intimate behavior of same-sex couples as “against the natural law.” It is this response to queer relationships that underpins the CDF statement.
The National Catholic Reporter, a prominent Catholic newspaper, gives front-page coverage to a committed Catholic couple who wanted a priest’s blessing of their union on their wedding day. A friendly priest from the LGBT community performed the ceremony – in an Episcopalian church.
According to the gospels, Jesus never even addressed this issue, and in focusing on his message of love and compassion he had very little to say about proscribing any sexual behavior.
The Catholic Church has definitely not followed his example in this regard.
While not deviating from the ideal high ground of a chaste lifestyle, Francis promised a more pastoral approach to homosexuals. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he supported civil unions where the state recognizes gay marriage as legal – a position that he has also advocated as pope, highlighting every person’s need for a supportive family.
While dealing only with civil arrangements, this thinking drew a lot of criticism from the strong traditionalist wing of the Catholic Church, especially in America. They reminded Francis of the core Catholic teaching that all sexual activity must be confined to marriage and procreation.
No pre-marital sex, no contraceptives allowed, and certainly same-sex lovemaking is completely anathema. The Catholic teaching on marriage is succinct: one man, one woman, one time!
This attitude to sexuality broadly fitted in with the wider culture until the 1960s. Since then, there has been a transformation in the thinking about what is permitted and appropriate between consenting adults. The easy availability of contraceptives drastically altered the behavior of dating couples, gay and straight.
It is no longer acceptable in Western culture to demean people because of their sexual proclivity. And Vatican statements, including the recent one from the CDF, always advise that homosexuals should be respected and treated with dignity.
Many gays cast a cold eye on this pronouncement, asking how can an institution that views their lifestyle as disordered and unnatural be sincere in wishing them well and offering them pastoral counseling.
It is instructive to consider the changing perspectives on homosexuality through the lens of the American Psychiatric Association (APA). They considered it a mental disorder until their 1973 annual convention when a slight majority of the psychiatrists voted to remove this negative designation.
Instead, their Diagnostic Manual of Disorders (DSM) named it as an “orientation disturbance,” a halfway effort aimed to include both sides in the APA. It wasn’t until 1987 that all negative connotations to being queer were removed completely from the DSM.
Cardinal Newman, the great 19th-century thinker and convert to Catholicism, warned that human knowledge of God and ethical issues can never be frozen in time and that church teaching must always be dynamic, open to new insights in response to advances in scientific knowledge and human experience.
Change, moving from past positions, has always been a challenge for big organizations and that certainly applies to the Catholic Church. Popes tend to show unwarranted deference to the teaching of their predecessors.
Paul VI, agonizing over the issue of contraceptive use in the late sixties, felt he could not go against the teaching of Pius X1 in his encyclical Casti Connubi (Latin: Of Chaste Wedlock) published in 1930. Pius was asserting traditional values in the area of sexuality against the liberalizing statement in the same year by the Anglican leadership at their Lambeth Conference, which allowed the use of contraceptives by married couples in limited circumstances.
Anyway, Paul went against the advice of a clear majority of his advisory commission, mainly because he felt that deviating from his predecessor would damage papal credibility. His encyclical Humanae Vitae (Latin: Of Human Life), published in 1968, remains true to Casti Connubi and disallows the use of condoms or the contraceptive pill even by married couples. The overwhelming majority of Catholics disregard this papal ordinance with, ironically, serious damage to the credibility that Paul sought to enhance.
More recently, Francis replied to the important question of ordaining women by stating that his predecessor John Paul II already ruled that out, without sharing his own opinion. Interestingly, it is a central issue on the agenda of the German church in their important ongoing synod, and they are likely to recommend change in this discipline. If other national and regional synods take a similar stand, Rome may not be able to staunch the forces of modernity.
At present, any priest or bishop participating in a female ordination is subject to excommunication. Tough luck on the many women who feel called to priestly service.
These ecclesiastical regulations reflect the cultural beliefs of other times. The Vatican is finding it very challenging to update and restate its belief system, especially in the light of positive advances in popular perceptions and scientific insights about the gay lifestyle.
Christians call on the spirit that pervades the universe, the spiritus mundi, for guidance. Catholic theologians in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1964) stressed the importance of what they called the sensus fidelium, the beliefs of the people in the pews, in gradually developing an understanding of controversial issues.
The men in the Vatican pay occasional lip service to this concept, but in reality, they want to keep power for themselves and they have been really successful in this regard. The lay community, non-clerics, have virtually no say in deciding church teaching about the queer lifestyle.
Back to the recent CDF pronouncement about blessing gay marriages. The ruling from Rome elicited expressions of dismay in progressive church circles. Cardinal Schonborn of Vienna said that as long as the request for a blessing is genuine and comes from a good heart, “it will not be refused.”
Seven of the ten Austrian bishops have been critical of the Vatican statement, and 200 German theologians questioned a regulation that suggests the exclusion of gay couples from God’s love. And more than 2,000 priests in Germany and Austria promised to continue blessing unions of queer couples with the proper disposition.
In America, Cardinal Tobin in Newark, from the minority progressive wing of the American bishops, proudly welcomes gays to his cathedral and states that the church’s approach to sexuality badly needs rethinking.
Across the Hudson, the large Catholic homosexual community in New York would surely celebrate if Cardinal Dolan showed a similar magnanimity, but he is a leader of old-school thinking. He fully supports the CDF statement and, unfortunately, no priest in his archdiocese can offer a sacerdotal blessing of the marriage of gay parishioners because the CDF in the Vatican has declared that God has ruled it out.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
This church in Vienna’s Breitenfeld neighbourhood is among those flying the rainbow flag
By Jastinder KHERA
The Catholic church of the parish of Hard is one of many in Austria which decided to fly the rainbow flag in solidarity with the LGBT community after the Vatican ruled last month that the Church couldn’t bless same-sex partnerships.
The powerful Vatican office responsible for defending church doctrine, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), handed down a ruling that same-sex unions could not be blessed despite their “positive elements”.
The office wrote that while God “never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world… he does not and cannot bless sin”.
Hard’s parish priest Erich Baldauf says he and the hundreds of other clergy who belong to the reform-oriented “Priests’ Initiative” movement decided to fly the flag to show “that we do not agree with this outdated position”, with many other churches also making the gesture.
Soon after the rainbow flag in Hard was put up, there was an attempt to damage it, and last Tuesday Baldauf was saddened to discover that it had been burnt.
“We were shocked… it pains us,” Baldauf said.
While the perpetrator has not been caught and there is no proven motive, Baldauf notes that other flags that have flown in the same place were never subject to attack.
In the following days, another rainbow flag outside a church, also in the far western state of Vorarlberg, was burnt, while a third was stolen.
In the following days, two other rainbow flags hanging outside churches, also in the far western state of Vorarlberg, were also burnt.
Contrary to the impression that these incidents may give, surveys show that Austrian public opinion is firmly on the side of equal treatment for same-sex couples.
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Austria since 2019 and a survey last week found that a full 64 percent of Austrians opposed the Vatican’s recent decision.
A mere 13 percent said they could understand the Vatican’s stance.
Austria is still a majority Catholic country, with the Church counting just under five million adherents in a country of 8.8 million.
But this represents a steep decline from the decades after the war, in which almost 90 percent of Austrians belonged to the Church.
Experts say differences between Austrian social attitudes and Church teaching on issues such as homosexuality and abortion contribute to tens of thousands choosing to leave the Church each year.
– ‘Hurts to the core’ –
It’s not just the explicitly reform-oriented Priests’ Initiative who have spoken out on the CDF ruling.
No less a figure than the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, said he was “not happy” with the Vatican’s pronouncement.
“The message that went out via the media to the whole world was a simple ‘no’ and in fact a ‘no’ to blessing, which is something that hurts many people to their core,” he explained to the Catholic newspaper Der Sonntag.
Toni Faber, the priest of Vienna’s iconic St Stephen’s Cathedral, was even more forthright.
“If I had the job of causing the most damage possible to the Church with two pages of text, I would write exactly the sort of letter that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has written,” he told the Profil news magazine.
The CDF’s statement “totally misfired” in the aim of “upholding the sacrament of marriage”, Faber said, adding that none of the heterosexual couples he marries “feel diminished by the fact that I give blessings to same-sex couples”.
The unhappiness has found an echo among Germany’s Catholics, with priests using a hashtag calling for “disobedience” online.
While some prominent German bishops have supported the Vatican’s stance, others accused the CDF of seeking to stifle theological debates which have been active among German Catholics in recent years.
A German petition calling for the CDF’s ruling to be ignored has been signed by 2,600 priests and deacons, as well as 277 theologians.
The reaction in Germany and Austria speaks to broader global fault lines on social issues between socially conservative and liberal congregations.
However, according to Jesuit priest and former head of Vatican Radio’s German section Bernd Hagenkord, German-speaking countries also have “a very particular tradition of theology which acts very independently” and is less amenable to being overruled by Church hierarchy.
Back in Hard, the parish church decided to leave the remnants of the burnt flag in place for several days after the attack.
“It had the effect of a cross,” says Baldauf.
But in time for Good Friday, a new rainbow flag once again flew proudly outside the church, a sign of welcome for all parishioners at Easter.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
A Catholic priest refused to bless the palms on Palm Sunday in protest against the Catholic Church’s ban on blessings for same-sex unions.
Father Giulio Mignani of Bonassola, near La Spezia in Italy, is an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage, according to local media reports.
The priest told his congregation on Palm Sunday that he would not be doing the routine blessing, which occurs on the Sunday before Easter, in protest after the Vatican forbade clergy from blessing same-sex couples because God “cannot bless sin”.
“If I can’t bless couples formed by persons of the same sex, then I won’t bless palms or olive branches either,” Father Mignani told the crowd that had gathered for mass on Sunday (28 March).
Catholic Church ban on same-sex blessings has ignited fury
Mignani’s intervention is just the latest in a string of furious responses from figures within the Catholic Church to the Vatican’s ruling.
There was widespread condemnation when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued an explanatory note on 15 March telling priests that they must no longer bless same-sex couples.
The letter, which was approved by Pope Francis, said a blessing can only be conferred on a couple that lives according to “the designs of God inscribed in creation”.
While the note insisted that God loves all his children equally, it went on to say he “cannot bless sin”.
James Martin, a Jesuit priest known for his LGBT+ advocacy, said he hasn’t seen so many people ready to leave the church since the child-sexual abuse scandals hit.
“Not since the anger over sex abuse in 2002 and 2018 have I seen so many people so demoralised, and ready to leave the church, as I have this week,” Martin wrote on Twitter.
“And not simply LGBT+ people, but their families and friends, a large part of the church.”
Meanwhile, former Irish president Mary McAleese – a vocal Catholic who also has a gay son – hit out at the Vatican’s statement as “unbearably vicious”.
In a letter to Catholic archbishop Eamon Martin, McAleese said Pope Francis’ “chummy words to the press often quite reasonably realise hopes of church reform which hare subsequently almost invariably dashed by firm restatements of unchanged church teaching”.
She said the Vatican’s statement was “fired like a missile from the centre of governance of the church” and had caused “heartache and hurt” for many.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
Fr Paddy Byrne, from Portlaoise, was responding to a recent report from the Vatican which ruled that the church cannot bless same-sex unions as ‘God doesn’t bless sin‘.
In the ruling, the CDF stated that while “God loves every person and the Church does the same”, and rejects all unjust discrimination, the church cannot bless a same-sex union as it does not follow the plan of the Creator.
The blessing of same-sex unions, the CDF said, is not “licit” and “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”.
The ruling insisted that this is not a “form of unjust discrimination” and that a gay person can be blessed individually, but the blessing of a same-sex union cannot take place as a “reminder of the truth… of the very nature of the sacramentals”.
Fr Byrne, who is a part of the Abbeyleix Parish, yesterday took to Twitter where he lamented over the ruling, citing his own experience in blessing “ceremonies of every description”.
Over the past 20 years, Fr Byrne has blessed “pets, cows, crops, rings, cars, tractors,” he said.
“Yet a same sex couple who request a simple blessing on their union must be turned away.
“This is not Christianity,” he said.
The ruling from the Vatican was a blow for Catholic members of the LGBT+ community, who were hoping for progression from their church, and Fr Byrne’s words have resonated with people across Ireland and beyond, garnering almost 5,000 ‘likes’ on Twitter.
“I feel so sad for the church,” one person wrote in response to Fr Byrne’s post. “What I’ve learned about Jesus in my 48 years of life is he preached love not hate, inclusion not exclusion.”
Earlier this month, former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, criticised Pope Francis following the Vatican ruling, saying she was bitterly disappointed by what could be perceived as Pope Francis raising and subsequently dashing hopes that LGBT Catholics were close to being accepted by their religion.
As reported by The Irish Times, the former president criticised Pope Francis as a populist whose “chummy words to the press” makes people believe the church is becoming a more progressive and accepting place– before the Vatican dashes such hopes soon afterwards.
Pope Francis made headlines across the globe late last year when he appeared to voice his support for same-sex families and same-sex unions, as he spoke in a new documentary stating “homosexual people have a right to be in a family” .
“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he added. “That way they are legally covered.”
“[Gay people] are children of God and have a right to a family.”
“Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.”
However, the Vatican later released a statement insisting the Pope’s comments were taken out of context and the Church’s stance on the LGBT community and gay marriage has not changed.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!