While several Western European bishops praised the declaration of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, given on 18th December, on blessing same-sex couples as “a major breakthrough in pastoral care,” reactions elsewhere have been mixed.
African bishops offered explainers for “confused” faithful and/or banned same-sex blessings. Ukraine’s Catholic bishops warned of “ambiguous wording” and criticised the document for lacking a call to “sinners to conversion.”
The declaration “Fiducia Supplicans” (“Supplicating Trust”) says a Catholic priest can bless a same-sex or other unmarried couple as long as it is not a formal liturgical blessing and does not give the impression that the Catholic Church is blessing the union as if it were a marriage.
The bishops of Malawi, Zambia and Kazakhstan were the first to draw a red line by banning blessings of homosexual couples in their regions. These “directly and seriously contradict divine revelation and the uninterrupted, 2,000-year-old teaching and practice of the Catholic Church,” Kazakhstan’s bishops said in a pastoral letter.
The Malawian bishops’ conference also banned the blessing of same-sex partnerships “in order to avoid confusion among the faithful.”
In Ireland, Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, who is primate of all Ireland, welcomed the fact that the document is “very clear that there is no change to the perennial teaching of the church on marriage as between a man and a woman.”
“At a practical level as a priest, I welcome the clarity in this document. The pope is very clear that these pastoral blessings are not a kind of a liturgical or ritual acknowledgment that these unions are equivalent or in any way analogous to the marriage between a man or a woman,” he told OSV News.
“At the same time, it shows that the issues and the hurts experienced by people identifying as LGBT+ have certainly been heard very loudly within the church. I do hope that people who may have felt excluded in the past, will see this as some step towards them with the love and mercy of Christ,” Archbishop Martin said.
He stressed there had been some confusion in the media treatment of the declaration, suggesting that the church is now blessing same-sex marriage. “The church is not and that is absolutely clear in this declaration,” he continued.
“Some priests and laypeople may feel that this is going to cause confusion: Is this the church recognizing civil marriage or same sex marriage as equivalent to sacramental marriage between a man and a woman? The document is crystal clear that that is not the case,” Archbishop Martin said.
Emphasising that with the document, Pope Francis is trying “to get the balance of the teacher and the shepherd,” he added that “all of us priests and bishops have a responsibility to uphold the teachings of the church as handed down to us, as rooted in the gospel and in tradition, that all sexual activity finds its proper and natural place within the setting of a sacramental marriage for those in the Catholic Church. Therein lies the teaching role of the pope who is setting out the clarity of the Church’s teaching on marriage.”
“At the same time, the pope is very much exercising his pastoral role in accompanying people,” Archbishop Martin said. “One of the great gifts of the priesthood is being able to offer people a blessing. These informal, pastoral, but beautiful moments, where you are able to bless someone where they are at, is something we do every day as a priest.”
“This particular declaration makes somebody like me or any priest a little bit more comfortable that they can do this without feeling, ‘Am I contradicting the teaching of the church?’ So, there is a clarity here, which I think will help pastors on the ground,” he noted.