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Pope Francis

Pope Francis & Blessing Same Sex Couples

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has signed a declaration, Fiducia Supplicans, opening up the pastoral option of Blessing Same-Sex couples in the Roman Catholic Church. It distinguishes such a blessing, and such a same-sex union, from the sacrament of marriage. As such, Pope Francis has essentially launched an approach akin to that taken five years ago by the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and to the more recent decision in the Church of England.

Sections 7-30 of the declaration explore the Christian understanding of blessing. I have always stressed the Judeo-Christian understanding that we bless by giving thanks. (How did Jesus bless bread and wine? He did it by giving thanks. How do we bless water for baptism? By giving thanks. How do we bless people and ordain them? By giving thanks.) In the declaration, Pope Francis complements this (what the document calls) “ascending” point by adding the biblical “descending” approach which sees God blessing in response to trusting supplication (the meaning of the Latin title of the declaration). I would add that often for this supplication, descending approach, in English we use the subjunctive – the rare mood of a verb expressing wish… [Most commonly found in “Happy Birthday to you…”; “God save the King!”]

It is true that Pope Francis has not changed the doctrine of marriage. But it is also true that some things have now changed.

Such theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, implies a REAL DEVELOPMENT [my emphasis] from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church. This explains why this text has taken on the typology of a “Declaration.” [the highest level document a Dicastery can produce]…The Holy Father’s above-mentioned response invites us to broaden and enrich the meaning of blessings. Blessings are among the most widespread AND EVOLVING [my emphasis] sacramentals….Within the horizon outlined here appears the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex…

Fiducia Supplicans Presentation, 7, 8, & 31

Some people are attempting to minimise the declaration, claiming that the declaration is simply articulating that one can bless (sinful) individuals. In other words, contrary to the explicit points made by the text itself, they claim that there is no real development, no broadening, no enriching, no evolving, But the declaration is not merely about blessing individuals; this is unequivocally about blessing couples as a couple.

The Declaration highlights (in sections 2 & 3) that this is certainly a significant broadening and evolution from the Responsum of two-a-half years ago which answered “Negative” to the question, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?”

The status of this week’s declaration is clearly “higher” than the 2021 Responsum. That 2021 text was a response by the  Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. The then Secretary, Cardinal Ladaria, was granted an audience by Pope Francis who assented to its publication. But this week’s declaration is explicitly

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. This explains why this text has taken on the typology of a “Declaration.”

Fiducia Supplicans Presentation

Some also see a shift between the approach of Cardinal Ladaria and the new prefect of the Dicastery, Cardinal Fernández. A shift can also be seen in moving from talking about blessing of homosexual unions to this week’s declaration talking about blessing couples of the same sex (Section 31).

Having highlighted similarities with the NZ Anglican approach, there are also some differences. Some elements are “stricter”: RC same-sex blessings may not be associated directly with a Civil Union ceremony. Some elements are “less strict”: there is no requirement of permission from the Ordinary (bishop), parish or community, or parish priest. I would note in this comparison context that RC deacons can bless, NZ Anglican deacons (like Orthodox deacons) cannot (as an aside, I would love someone to highlight where RC deacons being able to bless originates; and, on the other hand, if there are any Anglican provinces that follow this RC approach and have deacons bless).

Following my point in the previous paragraph that the Ordinary (bishop) is not involved and that this document comes from the Pope who, in RC understanding, has universal jurisdiction over the entire Church, interesting questions have already arisen when bishops are forbidding the application of this declaration – this has so far happened at least in the Archdiocese of Saint Mary in Astana, Malawi, and Zambia.

On another matter: I would question the distinction being stressed by some between liturgical and a non-liturgical blessing. Blessings are liturgical. To speak of a non-liturgical blessing is akin to speaking of a non-geometric circle. The declaration is sidestepping issues, currently, by arguing against publishing examples, templates, authorised rites, and so forth. Inevitably, recordings and examples will arise and lead to further discussion such as whether such-and-such a recorded video oversteps what the Declaration allows.

In conclusion, I would point to an element of the declaration most people have quickly skimmed past.

The Vatican defines that marriage

is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, NATURALLY OPEN TO THE GENERATION OF CHILDREN [my emphasis]”

Fiducia Supplicans 4

Many, I would suspect most couples, at least in this country, and I also suspect in the wider Western world, would go through a Roman Catholic wedding ceremony using some form of artificial contraception. For those who are opposed to or simply struggle with the Vatican’s broadening, enriching, evolving, real development in relation to LGBTQIA+ people, they may need reminding that the majority of RC couples are not in a marriage as defined in this declaration. The question of “blessings of couples in irregular situations” applies not simply to a very small percentage of people. It may apply to you or to couples you care about. It applies to couples going through what appears as a Roman Catholic wedding ceremony but are not (or not yet) “naturally open to the generation of children”.

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