Why LGBTQ Catholics Are Ambivalent About the “Gift” of Same-Sex Blessings

— For some, it’s a watershed moment and for others it’s a piddling half-step. But it has the radical potential to encourage some very important conversations.

A priest blesses a lesbian couple in Munich.

By Michael F. Pettinger

I like to remind friends that December 25 is just the first of the 12 days of Christmas. The gift wrap and bows might already be in the garbage, but there’s still the problem of what to do with the presents, particularly the big, awkward ones we didn’t necessarily ask for. A case in point is the gift the Vatican gave in late December when it granted permission for priests to extend a blessing to Catholics in “irregular” relationships. The term refers to heterosexuals in relationships not sanctioned by the church as well as same-sex couples, but most of the media attention has been trained on the latter. And while a great deal has already been written on the subject, we’re still sorting out what it means.

For those who follow the church, the announcement wasn’t a complete surprise. As early as 2021, there was talk that Pope Francis was not happy with the decision of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF, a body that promulgates Catholic doctrine) to ban the blessing of such unions. The DDF stated that there was too much risk that they would be “confused” with sacramental marriages and that it was, in any event, impossible to bless something that is not “objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace.” That ban, however, did not stop bishops in Belgium and Germany from advancing plans to formally bless such unions. The fact that these moves were part of the “synodal path” Francis is fostering further complicated the situation. The pope could not forbid them from going forward without appearing inconsistent, nor could he simply silence other bishops who complained that the Germans and Belgians were on the road to “heresy” and “schism.”

In the words of Jesuit priest and writer Father James Martin, the December 18 declaration, Fiducia supplicans, can be seen as Francis’s attempt to “thread the needle.” Rather than flatly contradicting the DDF’s previous ban on blessing gay couples, the document draws a careful distinction between the formal blessings bestowed in a sacrament like marriage and the less formal blessings offered as part of the day-to-day pastoral activity of a priest. On the one hand, it heads off initiatives like those proposed in Germany and Belgium that might “confuse” same-sex unions with marriage, which the document still defines as “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children.” At the same time, it permits priests to acknowledge and bless what is good in those relationships, and to pray that the couple involved might “live better”—a point to which we will have to return.

Not surprisingly, the declaration was met with a mix of jubilation and moral outrage. Father Martin, known for his efforts to encourage greater rapprochement between the church hierarchy and the LGBTQ community, published a photo of himself blessing two men clasping each other’s hands. At the same time, bishop conferences in Cameroon, Zambia, and Malawi have all formally forbidden priests from offering such blessings, denouncing the distinction made in the document between sacramental and non-sacramental blessings as “hypocritical.”

Less expected was the ambivalence, anger, and cynicism expressed by some LGBTQ Catholics. Mary Pezzulo, a bisexual woman in a heterosexual marriage who is well-known as a Catholic blogger, complained that the declaration is “in some ways a laughably tiny concession. In other ways, it’s a monumental step forward.” Others have been less nuanced. When asked whether he and his husband would now have their relationship blessed by a priest, my best friend told me in language too colorful for The Nation what those priests could do to themselves.

This attitude is indicative of the damage the church’s treatment of LGBTQ people has already done. It’s no secret that church membership in the United States has dropped in the last few decades, and, according to the Pew Research Center, no other religious community has suffered more precipitous losses than the Catholic Church. While there seem to be no figures for Catholics in particular, a survey published last May by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 30 percent of US adults who have left a religious community say they did so at least partially because of negative teachings regarding LGBTQ people. Offering blessings to same-sex couples might be a welcome development to those who still care about the church, but it’s not clear that it will have any effect on those who have already given up on it.

Indeed, the long-term effects of the decision are almost impossible to predict. The angry statements of the African bishops and US conservatives might raise the same specter of schism that haunted the movement to formalize blessings among the German and Belgian bishops—though the fact that Fiducia supplicans emphasizes the private, informal nature of the blessing will make it difficult for anyone to break communion with anyone else. How would any bishop or priest know that another has blessed an LGBTQ couple, unless, like Father Martin, they make it public?

The privacy of the blessings might, in fact, prove to be the stroke of genius in the declaration, insofar as it encourages on the private level the kind of dialogue Francis has been urging in the synodal process. Like other moves the DDF has made in recent weeks—the statement that transgender individuals can be baptized and serve as godparents and the reminder that women cannot be denied communion because they are single mothers—it creates occasions for new kinds of conversation. Admittedly, some of those conversations will be awkward. As Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice and a lesbian, pointed out, “Given the homophobic and transphobic climate created by many bishops in the United States, the average same-sex couple likely still won’t feel comfortable presenting themselves to their local bishop or priest to ask for a blessing.” But the discomfort goes both ways. One priest on what we used to call Twitter complained that the declaration would put him in the position of saying no to people asking for blessings. In effect, both sides foresee the sort of difficult, face-to-face interactions that one expects around the family dinner table this time of year.

The declaration, then, could prove to be a gift that won’t stop giving, and that might be more than Francis bargained for. While I don’t doubt the sincerity of his desire to open the church to LGBTQ people, all indications are that his understanding of sex and gender is traditional and essentialist. The African bishops might not be completely wrong to call the declaration “hypocritical,” since the word derives from a Greek term that, among other things, means “actor.” There is bound to be an element of falseness in offering a blessing that same-sex couples will “live better” if living better is understood to live no longer as a couple. At least part of the resentment some LGBTQ Catholics feel is that these blessings will be just a kind of noblesse oblige, another bit of condescending theater meant to make cis-heterosexuals feel better about themselves.

But all those difficult conversations unleashed by the declaration could also help push that cis-heterosexual paradigm from the center of our understanding of sex and relationships and leave us looking instead at what it means to love. And that might be the glorious possibility hidden in this very awkward Christmas gift.

Complete Article HERE!

California friars file for bankruptcy in wake of sex abuse lawsuits

A cenotaph paying tribute to Father Junipero Serra is seen at the Carmel Mission in Carmel, California May 5, 2015. Pope Francis intends to declare Serra a saint at a Mass celebrated at the National Shrine in Washington on Sept 23 during his U.S. visit. The Franciscan friar built a series of missions along the Pacific coast in the latter 18th century, in what is now California, to spread the faith among Native Americans.


The Franciscan Friars of California, a Roman Catholic organization devoted to serving the poor, has filed for bankruptcy after facing nearly 100 lawsuits related to decades-old sex abuse claims.

The Oakland, California-based organization said in a Tuesday statement that it was driven to bankruptcy by a change in California state law that allowed sex abuse survivors to file decades-old complaints that were otherwise time-barred under the state’s statute of limitations.

The Franciscan Friars of California joins a growing wave of Roman Catholic organizations that have filed for bankruptcy to address sex abuse lawsuits.

Most of the 94 lawsuits filed against the Franciscan Friars were filed in California, where a 2019 law revived older sex abuse claims and led to the bankruptcies of the Catholic dioceses of San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Rosa.

All of the recent lawsuits against the Franciscan Friars of California are based on abuse that allegedly occurred at least 27 years ago, the group said in a Tuesday statement. Most of the friars accused of abuse are deceased, and the organization has long since cut ties with the six who are still alive, the group said.

Provincial minister Father David Gaa said that bankruptcy would allow the organization to equitably compensate survivors of abuse, even if “no apology or any amount of financial compensation can reverse the harm.”

“I am deeply saddened by the sinful acts committed and the damage caused to abuse survivors — then only children — who put their trust in friars,” Gaa said in a statement.

The Franciscan order is known for operating the St. Anthony Foundation in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, providing food, clothing and addiction counseling to those in need. The work of the St. Anthony Foundation, and the organization’s other operations in California and Arizona, will not be impacted by the bankruptcy filing, a spokesman said.

The Franciscan organization has between $1 million and $10 million in assets, and between $10 million and $50 million in liabilities, according to a petition filed Dec. 31 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Oakland, California.

The case is: In re: Franciscan Friars of California Inc, U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California, No. 23-41723

For the debtor: Robert Harris of Binder & Malter

New Zealand bishop blamed for ‘ignorance’ in contact with abuse victims

— Bishop John Adams of Palmerston North said that his email to a survivors’ network had been misinterpreted.

The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, seat of the Bishop of Palmerston North.

By Bess Twiston Davies

A bishop in New Zealand was alleged to have accused clergy abuse survivors of “vitriol” after viewing their group’s Facebook page.

Bishop John Adams of Palmerston North wrote to the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) saying that he had been “shocked to be honest at the level of vitriol, indeed an almost complete lack of charity” in comments left on their page.

Adams, who was ordained in the diocese last September, added: “Surely Catholic clergy have a right to both the just scrutiny, and the protection of the law.”

Dr Christopher Longhurst, national director of SNAP, said Adams had failed to engage with the network’s official website or in personal conversations with abuse survivors. He said Adams’ email revealed “utter ignorance around trauma-informed response”.

“Victims and survivors have suffered enough. They deserve unconditional support from all members of the church. Their anger is perfectly justified.”

The New Zealand news site The Scoop said Adams had asked SNAP for “assurances” before he would display posters for the network in his diocese, but never specified what this entailed.

A second site, Stuff, reported that Adams had said he remained open to working with SNAP, but his email comments had been misinterpreted, as he referred to a lack of charity on social media rather than from abuse survivors.

It reported Adams had ceased to communicate with SNAP after receiving an email which he interpreted as a threat concerning the network’s future Facebook posts.

Recently, Longhurst published a report analysing the Catholic Church’s response to abuse allegations in New Zealand.

Writing in the New Zealand theology journal, Stimulus, Longhurst said survivors had been “re-traumatised” by the Church’s official process to offering victims redress.

The National Office for Professional Standards was established in 2004 to implement the Church’s initiative for victims Te Houhanga Rongo – A Path To Healing (APTH).

Although created to “enable compassionate responses” to abuse allegations, Longhurst said the process led to “more harm to victims and survivors”. Some described it as an “inquisition” where they felt “put on trial”.

He added that Catholic Church officials in New Zealand have “failed to fulfil, and are not fulfilling their obligations to victims and survivors of clergy and religious sexual abuse under their own redress scheme”.

In 2023, SNAP wrote two open letters to Pope Francis, urging him to establish an external inquiry into the “authenticity” of the APTH scheme.

Complete Article HERE!

Fiducia Supplicans news flashback

— 5-star case of the medium being the message


Here is a fact from life on the religion beat. Several times a year, a religion-beat reporter is going to be approached by an editor who wants him or her to make a photo-assignment for a religious holiday or a story with some kind of religion hook.

They don’t want Southern Baptists in gray suits (or even megachurch tropical shirts). They don’t want Pentecostal believers in church clothes with their hands in the air. (Well, if there were snake-handlers in urban zip codes near elite newsrooms, they’d be big hits with newsroom photo-desks.)

Reporters know what editors want — pictures of Catholic rites. Catholics photograph well. That’s why there are 100 movies about Catholics for every one movie about run-of-the-mill Protestants. (Episcopalians will do, every now and then, especially since they always are several decades ahead of Rome on the historic “reforms,” such as female bishops, etc.)

This brings me, belatedly (I’ve had other things on my mind), to Fiducia Supplicans and what makes that complex and, I would argue, intentionally confusing document so newsworthy and historic.

This was a papal chess move that, in the fine print, stressed that its creators did NOT want to produce photo ops that looked like same-sex marriages. But the big news is that it did precisely that in the media that matter the most — newspapers and television networks in New York City and other deep-blue media environments.

It’s all about the staged visuals. If you look at Fiducia Supplicans from a photo-op perspective, the key New York Times story was perfect. The headline: “Making History on a Tuesday Morning, With the Church’s Blessing.

These blessing rites had been taking place in Europe for several years now (and privately, we can assume, in North America). The elite press ignored those events, even though — from a church history perspective — they were just as important as blessing rites In. New. York. City.

But anything in New York City, with America’s most important (and Pope Francis favored) priest in a starring role is obviously more important than something in Germany. Right? Now it’s time to celebrate.

The Rev. James Martin gives a blessing to Jason Steidl Jack, left, and his husband, Damian Steidl Jack, center, in Manhattan.

Let’s read through several crucial passages in that Times epistle to the people of America. Note the anti-photo-op Vatican language in the overture which sets up, of course, the Vatican approved, oh so symbolic, photo op.

As a Jesuit priest for more than two decades, the Rev. James Martin has bestowed thousands of blessings — on rosary beads, on babies, on homes, boats, and meals, on statues of saints, on the sick, on brides and on grooms.

Never before, though, was he permitted to bless a same-sex couple — not until … the pope said he would allow such blessings, an announcement that reverberated through the church.

… Damian Steidl Jack, 44, and his husband, Jason Steidl Jack, 38, stood before Father Martin in a living room on Manhattan’s West Side. The couple, running a bit late because of subway delays, dressed casually. Damian, a floral designer, complimented Father Martin on the pine smell of the Christmas tree.

In keeping with the Vatican’s admonition that such a blessing should not be performed with “any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding,” Father Martin wore no robes, and read from no text. There is no blessing for same-sex couples in the thick book of blessings published by the U.S. Conference of Bishops. Instead he selected a favorite of his own from the Old Testament.

“May the Lord bless and keep you,” Father Martin began, touching the two men’s shoulders. They bowed their heads slightly, and held hands.

“May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his countenance to you and give you joy and peace.

“And may almighty God bless you,” he said, making the sign of the cross, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The big word is “gestures.”

Thus, the photo is the story. That’s the whole point. The photo, for about 99% of readers who see it, says what Catholic progressives want it to say.

Catholic clergy will not be punished for performing these blessings. Catholic clergy who refuse to perform them can expect to get calls from reporters. The leaders of Catholic schools and ministries that choose to dismiss Catholics living in same-sex relationships can expect to be asked by judges whether these employees have been blessed by a priest, acting with the blessing of the pope.

The photo is the story. Protecting the priests in the photos appears — until Vatican actions prove otherwise — to have been the point of Fiducia Supplicans.

The New York TImes report does a great job of contrasting the anti-photo-op language in the Vatican document with the photo-op realities in real life. Again: The photo is the story. Note, again, the word “gesture.”

The pope’s decision was greeted as a landmark victory by advocates for gay Catholics, who describe it as a significant gesture of openness and pastoral care, and a reminder that an institution whose age is measured in millenniums can change.

The decision does not overturn the church’s doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. It does not allow priests to perform same-sex marriages. It takes pains to differentiate between the sacrament of marriage — which must take place in a church — and a blessing, which is a more informal, even spontaneous, gesture. And, a priest’s blessing of a same-sex couple should not take place in connection with a civil marriage ceremony, it says.

News of the pope’s decision spread quickly among gay Catholics, many of whom began preparations for blessings of their own after the busy Christmas season.

Ah, Catholics “began preparations” for “spontaneous” gestures.

Keep reading as the Times team moves into Act II:

On the morning of the pope’s announcement, Michael McCabe’s husband, Eric Sherman, ran into his home office in their apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, bursting with news: Their 46-year partnership could at last be blessed.

“You wait so long for the church to come around, you kind of give up hope,” said Mr. McCabe, 73, who attends Mass every Sunday at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

The couple married in 2010 in Connecticut, before same-sex marriages became legal in their home state of New York. They had long been resigned to the church’s stance, even if they had not fully made peace with it, Mr. McCabe said.

“I know that myself and my relationship with my husband are good things,” said Mr. McCabe, who taught catechism to first graders at the church.

In other words, McCabe is said to be a clergy-recognized leader in his parish, even with the strange past-tense reference in the this key language — “who taught catechism to first graders at the church.”

Maybe quote the senior priest in this parish to verify that crucial fact?

One more passage will note the obvious thesis in this story:

In New York City, where a handful of progressive Catholic churches have been on the forefront of welcoming L.G.B.T.Q. parishioners, but have stopped short of marrying them and sanctifying their unions, the news from the Vatican was just as exciting for some priests as it was for their parishioners.

“I say it is about darn time,” said the Rev. Joseph Juracek, pastor of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Midtown, who believes the church is finally aligning with Jesus’ teachings: “This is what he is all about: That God is for all people.”

Now they can schedule church blessings and take those crucial photos. That’s the story.

That’s the rite.

At the Outreach website, Father Martin made the same arguments that he made with the Times team (note the reference to his role in the Synod on Synodality):

… [Y]ou may hear from some quarters that “nothing has changed.” It reminds me of my church history professor, John W. O’Malley, S.J., who said that when church teaching changes, the most common introduction is “As the church has always taught… “

Here, Father O’Malley’s insight is made manifest in a slightly different way. Some Catholics oppose any steps toward greater inclusion for LGBTQ people in the life of the church. We saw some of this during the Synod on Synodality, where I was a voting member, with significant pushback from certain quarters on even using the term “LGBTQ.” So, for some, this declaration (even though it specifies that the blessings must not in any way seem like a marriage rite) will be threatening, and the temptation will therefore be to say, “Nothing has changed.”

But a great deal has in fact changed. Before this document was issued, there was no permission for bishops, priests and deacons to bless couples in same-sex unions in any setting. This document establishes, with some limitations, that they can.

Of course, some may say that there are many restrictions (as noted above), while others will note that in some places (most notable in the German church) these blessings were already widespread. (One German bishop told me during the Synod that he himself blessed such unions outside his cathedral.) The change here is that these blessings are now officially sanctioned by the Vatican. Today, with some limitations, I can perform a public blessing of a same-sex couple. Yesterday, I could not.

That spontaneous blessing took place, of course, after working on the photo-desk paperwork at The New York Times.

Complete Article HERE!