Can anything good come from blessing a same sex couple?

A recent Vatican document, “Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings”, has provoked intense controversy amongst Catholics. Unlike most pronouncements from the Vatican, it has been covered by all the major news media. Published with the explicit approval of Pope Francis, it allows Catholic priests to “bless” same-sex couples. It was immediately interpreted – wrongly -- as a step towards same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church.

Father Peter Kwak, a priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney, explains why this could be a positive development – if it is properly understood.

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I was once having a rather heated discussion with a lay person. Like many others, this person alleged that Pope Francis was intent on changing traditional Catholic teaching on marriage and homosexuality. I disagreed, quite confident that the Pope had no such intention, far from it!

He then brought up the ultra-progressive views of the Catholic bishops of Germany and demanded to know why Pope Francis appeared to be doing do little or nothing to pull them into line.

At this very moment, something dawned on me -- an idea which had hitherto never entered my mind.

I had always thought that it was impossible to bless a same-sex couple because doing so would equate to endorsing an ideology which is at odds with the Word of God in Bible, not to mention the reality of sexuality itself.

But what if the blessing were done, not to condone or legitimise sinful behaviour, which neither conforms to God’s will nor leads to true happiness, but to recognise and encourage those aspects which are truly good, in the hope that, with the help of God’s mercy, they might grow to become the defining characteristics of the relationship over time?

In the 12 years of my priesthood this had never occurred to me. But suddenly it seemed to make sense! And then, just before Christmas, I was informed by friends (I rarely follow the mainstream media) that the Pope had approved a Vatican document which allows blessings for same sex couples under certain circumstances.

I immediately thought: “Yes, bless their desire for truly loving and therefore truly chaste friendship and companionship, which desire, even if imperfect, ought to be present in those who humbly seek the Church’s blessing.”

Is this really as implausible as some of the Pope’s critics maintain?

Consider this. When Catholics get married outside the Church, their marriage is invalid in the Church’s eyes. It was – and still is – grounds for an annulment. To discourage this, priests used to advise other Catholics, including the family, not to attend the wedding. They were supposed to avoid giving the impression of “blessing” what is an objectively sinful situation.

That particular attitude, although still legitimate in itself, has been by and large eclipsed. Nowadays most priests if not all would provide a more nuanced advice to the family and friends of someone marrying outside the Church: “Yes, attending such weddings can be permissible, even commendable, under certain circumstances.”

 

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In my mind, the big question is, which pathway will bring about the greatest amount of good? Should we err on the side of exclusion so that the pain of separation will lead the others to see the error of their ways? Or should we err on the side of inclusion, without explicitly compromising on the truth, so that the others can be accompanied in the right direction?

There is never a single right answer which remains immutable in the midst of changing circumstances; instead, there are a variety of possible approaches, many of which are legitimate in themselves, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Such is the case in matters which pertain to the order of prudence rather than to the order of truth. Not being able to distinguish between the two has been the cause of so much harmful hardness of heart toward the Pope.

There is a powerful philosophical and theological principle that we should never forget: Goodness diffuses itself. There is nothing new about the Church’s commitment to recognising and encouraging what is good, even at the (reasonable, not excessive) risk of giving the unintended impression of condoning or legitimising what is not good, in the hope that, with the help of God’s mercy, what is good will diffuse itself and ultimately win over entire persons and communities.

After all, there could be no authentic conversion -- no real change of heart -- unless God’s grace were given to us first and then allowed to grow and flourish.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has been consistent in his preferential option for adventurous engagement with the seeds of goodness which are scattered across the complex landscape of the world, of the human heart.

Even if I weren’t required by my Catholic faith to heed his leadership with utmost earnestness, I might have still believed that the benefit of following the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, which seems very much inspired by the Gospel itself, would far outweigh the cost in the end!


Father Peter Kwak is parish priest of Beverley Hills, in the Archdiocese of Sydney. 

Image credits: Pope Francis on a visit to Armenia in 2016 depositphotos.com 


 

Showing 15 reactions

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  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-01-23 11:24:50 +1100
    Thank you God for making me an atheist so I don’t feel compelled to devote any part of what’s left of my ageing brain to this flapdoodle.
  • Jürgen Siemer
    commented 2024-01-22 17:50:44 +1100
    Dear Peter,
    as a traditional Catholic, as somebody loving the pre-vatican latin rite and as a father of more than 1.5 children, I have to say that Pope Francis’s pastoral visions towards me and my friends has been and is a particularly harsh one. Pope Francis has insulted and attacked us many times, in words and in deeds. So be it. But I continue to pray for him and our church.

    A “pastoral” vision towards homosexual couples must never turn into a compromise with truth. Let me assure you that pastoral love and speaking the truth can be combined without a blessing of the homosexual couple.

    Even if the blessing of the couple would only create the appearance of accepting sin, it should not be done.

    When, however, one reads the Pope’s various statements about homosexuality, one – I would say probably the majority of Catholics – might indeed conclude that the purpose of Fiducia supplicans is more about opening the door to acceptance.
  • Peter Kwak
    commented 2024-01-21 06:07:16 +1100
    Back to Susan:

    Yes, refusing to attend a wedding outside the Church is definitely still a legitimate option and could even be the best thing to do. There’s usually more than one legitimate option in matters of prudence and one must exercise conscience to work out the best one.

    FYI, another example has to do with catholic funerals for those who’ve committed suicide. Used to be prohibited. Not anymore. But both options are still legitimate. Circumstances do matter in forming a prudential judgment.

    I believe there are many other similar examples which can be discussed.
  • Peter Kwak
    commented 2024-01-21 06:04:59 +1100
    This is in response to Mary.

    You raise an important question: What is the meaning of blessing two persons together who are, for lack of a better word, a “couple”?

    You are right that there is a fundamental difference between a heterosexual couple who could get married and a gay couple for whom the reality of marriage is an impossibility. But the parallels do increase more between a remarried couple and a gay couple because, in both cases, Catholic marriage is not an option.

    Traditionally speaking, I think that church teaching was understood to mean that for these couples the only choice was between living in sin or going solo. But I believe that the Church is coming to recognise that there are also other options, especially in a world such as ours.

    What about a remarried couple who have had a family together? What about a gay couple who have been together for a decade or two? Yes, they are called to chastity (just like everyone else) but could chastity look more like chaste companionship than single-hood, at least for some of them? Or even a small community of those who aspire toward chaste friendship and companionship?

    If we can accept these last options as being legitimate and frankly much more realistic for some, then, I think there can be both legitimacy and meaning in blessing them together, under certain circumstances. This very last aspect is, at least for me, one of the novelties of Fiducia Supplicans which envisions blessings of couples in irregular situations, which is also a gesture, and a legitimate one at that, that tells them that they too belong in the Church!

    This is why I wrote in my article: ‘What if the blessing was done, not to condone or legitimise any sinful behaviour, which neither conforms to God’s will nor leads to true happiness, but to recognise and encourage those aspects which are truly good, in the hope that, with the help of God’s mercy, they might grow to become the defining characteristics of the relationship over time?’
  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-01-21 00:02:37 +1100
    So now it’s the parents who, by attending the wedding which they say is invalid, are made into hypocrites.

    It’s important to understand the purpose of a wedding, which is not a mere social party. The witnesses at a wedding are there to help that couple rigidly remember their vow “till death do they part”. Most importantly, the witness of the Church to this vow has great relevance to their keeping to it through the many hardships that life will bring it.

    This vow is so important that it explains why the Church community was formed in the first place. There are some who compare the Church with Communism by pointing out the similarity of their positions on wealth re-distribution. The difference between the wealth pools for Communism and for the Christian Church is that the main purpose of the latter’s wealth collections is to support the families the martyrs would leave behind, thus making their decision to refuse to pinch the incense less fraught with worry about what would happen to family. That is why the early Christians (in the book of Acts) sold all their things and donated to the Church, why Ananias was struck dead for having lied about his contribution. The pooled monies of the faithful were not just supposed to support the priests, they were supposed to support the widow and children of the man who would say, “No” to the incense pinching. Thus, the Church had his back. This was essential for people to know as the persecutions moved forward. Who knows but that the witness of the parents to the truth of marriage might not help the adult child realize he might have another calling than this particular union. Many people are glad to have converted to Catholicism specifically in preparation for their wedding. I’m sure we don’t want to call their conversions into doubt.
  • Peter Kwak
    commented 2024-01-20 15:56:56 +1100
    Hello Susan again,
    Two examples might be:
    - When the parents have reasons to believe that not attending the invalid wedding could cause permanent estrangement in the family.
    - When young couples who have not practiced for many years and do not intend to do so anytime soon are about to get married, they might feel like hypocrites for getting married in the Church just because that’s what the parents or grandparents want. We could even argue that by choosing to get married outside the Church they are actually displaying some integrity, which, with the help of God’s mercy, could grow and become instrumental someday in bringing them to a real faith, really, for the first time. That, although a less than ideal situation, could merit some tolerance, even some ‘qualified’ support.
  • Mary Bennett
    commented 2024-01-20 15:55:44 +1100
    Dear Father Kwak,
    Regarding the idea of “…similar principles would apply to a blessing of a gay couple.”
    There is a real difference between the invalid marriage of a man and a woman married outside the Church, and the supposed “marriage” of a gay couple, and it is this:
    A couple of people with same-sex attraction are never REALLY married to each other, and it can never BECOME a marriage. But there ARE circumstances in which a male-female couple who have entered an invalid marriage can actually make it right.
    We love them all, and since love means willing the good of the other, we must be truthful, and clear.
    Individual blessings for the people involved would avoid the dangerous confusion.
  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-01-20 09:27:59 +1100
    If the marriage is invalid, why attend it?
  • Peter Kwak
    commented 2024-01-20 08:26:34 +1100
    Dear Susan,

    The key phrase is ‘under certain circumstances’ which is not an empty one. It implies that what can reasonably be done is being done, perhaps for example:

    - The parents have explained that getting married outside the Church renders the marriage invalid.
    - The parents have expressed how grieved they are by the situation.
    - The parents have given the matter sufficient time for everyone’s consideration.
    - But the son/daughter still decides to go ahead.

    Now, not attending the wedding is still a legitimate option, even a potentially commendable one. By the same token, they don’t necessarily have to feel that, were they to attend the wedding, they are being unfaithful to church teaching. The parents probably know best how their absence at the wedding will be taken by the son/daughter, to what degree of disappointment or resentment, etc. The point is that this is a matter of prudential judgement for the parents, which involves real exercises of their conscience. The Church cannot just produce a simple rule book of dos and donts for every occasion; it would be inadvisable to do so because real life is much too complex.

    Similar principles would apply to a blessing of a gay couple.
  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-01-20 05:14:35 +1100
    “Consider this. When Catholics get married outside the Church, their marriage is invalid in the Church’s eyes. It was – and still is – grounds for an annulment. To discourage this, priests used to advise other Catholics, including the family, not to attend the wedding. They were supposed to avoid giving the impression of “blessing” what is an objectively sinful situation.

    That particular attitude, although still legitimate in itself, has been by and large eclipsed. Nowadays most priests if not all would provide a more nuanced advice to the family and friends of someone marrying outside the Church: “Yes, attending such weddings can be permissible, even commendable, under certain circumstances.”

    Consider THIS: These “modern” “nuanced” priests are delivering a shot in the back to those parents, instead of “having their back”. Where will those “priests” be when the marriage crumbles? if you can find them years later, they’ll be all too ready to process that ceremony through their annulment mills.

    OUTRAGEOUS that you would call such weddings “commendable” rather than “condemnable”. The truth hurts!

    If asked to bless a homosex couple or other “irregular” couple, how about saying, "I can only bless you individually…read up on the Church’s teachings eg, “The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality”.
  • Michael Cook
    commented 2024-01-19 21:51:11 +1100
    Thanks for the kudos, guys. Please forward it to your friends!
  • Elva Kindler
    commented 2024-01-19 21:23:51 +1100
    Thank you for this article, Father.
  • Christopher Szabo
    commented 2024-01-19 20:35:49 +1100
    Most interesting, Father!
    You could take a page from the Hungarian Catholic Bishops Conference, which suggests people in irregular unions be blessed as individuals so as not to create confusion, because the Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion — as this document has been.
  • Mary Bennett
    followed this page 2024-01-19 17:21:03 +1100
  • Fr Peter Kwak
    published this page in The Latest 2024-01-18 22:12:29 +1100