Has Pope Francis just green-lighted same-sex marriage? Nope
It’s not the Christmas present the world expected from the Vatican: a document approving blessings for same-sex couples. Fiducia Supplicans, to use its official Latin name, is a short theological document which clarifies the position of Pope Francis on this controversial issue.
The internet lit up like a Christmas tree. “Gay rights groups celebrate Pope Francis’s ‘early Christmas gift’ to LGBTQ+ couples” was the headline in Pink News. And that was the vibe around the globe. The statement was interpreted as a cautious step toward same-sex marriage.
The idea that Santa Claus left the North Pole early was reflected in the headlines:
“Vatican approves blessings for same-sex couples in landmark ruling for LGBTQ Catholics” ABC News (Australia)
“Vatican gives conditional approval to blessings for same-sex couples” The Guardian
“Pope Francis Allows Priests to Bless Same-Sex Couples” The New York Times
“Pope Francis approves blessing same-sex couples in ‘major step forward’” LGBTQ Nation
After Christmas, when people kick the tyres and give it a test drive, they may not be so enthusiastic. For Fiducia Supplicans is as uncompromising as ever in excluding homosexual relations as morally acceptable. Here are two excerpts from the text:
Therefore, rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage—which is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children”—and what contradicts it are inadmissible. This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage; it is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.
… the Church has always considered only those sexual relations that are lived out within marriage to be morally licit, the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice.
So if Pope Francis – who approved, but did not write the document – still believes that marriage is only for a man and a woman, what’s the point of his Christmas present?
Nowadays, same-sex unions are so common that it’s impossible for the Church to ignore people who try to find their happiness in these domestic arrangements. The subtext of the document is that they are wounded and need help. Pope Francis is a big fan of the Good Samaritan; he wants Catholics to step off the beaten track and apply wine and oil to those wounds.
A gay couple who asks a Catholic priest for a blessing is making a significant step in their relationship with God and the Church. Fiducia Supplicans says:
One who asks for a blessing show himself to be in need of God’s saving presence in his life and one who asks for a blessing from the Church recognizes the latter as a sacrament of the salvation that God offers. To seek a blessing in the Church is to acknowledge that the life of the Church springs from the womb of God’s mercy and helps us to move forward, to live better, and to respond to the Lord’s will.
In other words, their request for a blessing is being interpreted as a call for help in their journey towards setting themselves right with God. The priest and the Levite tiptoed around the man who had fallen amongst thieves in the parable of the Good Samaritan. That’s not Pope Francis’s style.
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And there’s another caveat. Fiducia Supplicans makes it very clear that a blessing should not be converted into the formality of a ritual, lest it be interpreted as approval of same-sex unions. The blessing should be sincere, but spontaneous and informal:
… the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance—but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely.
“To fulfill his will completely” – in other words, abandon homosexual relations.
The same approach to blessing “irregular relationships” applies to heterosexual couples who are living together. A blessing should not confuse and disorient other believers:
In any case, precisely to avoid any form of confusion or scandal, when the prayer of blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple.
Many Catholics are going to be disconcerted by the idea that gay couples can now receive a blessing from a priest. The point is, however, that the priest is blessing not the relationship but the persons. It has been done before. When the late Cardinal George Pell was celebrating Mass in Melbourne, gay marriage campaigners in rainbow sashes approached him for Holy Communion. He refused – but he gave each of them his blessing, no doubt praying silently for their conversion.
So blessing same-sex couples and de facto couples is a good product.
But just because a product works doesn’t mean that its marketing campaign makes sense. Most people learn what the Catholic Church teaches from headlines, sound bites and tweets, not sermons and Catholic newspapers. And these are almost all framing Fiducia Supplicans as a step towards same-sex marriage.
It’s not! Read the terms and conditions, the Vatican may say.
But who ever reads the Ts & Cs? Not lay people, and probably not even most priests and bishops. The Vatican’s marketing department has its work cut out.
Michael Cook is editor of Mercator
Image credits: Bigstock
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