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The Catholic Church can bless gay people, not unions

No (white) smoke without fire. Credit: Getty

December 19, 2023 - 10:00am

Around the world for the past twenty-four hours, headlines have boomed that the Catholic Church has opened new possibilities for the formal blessings of same-sex unions.

Newspapers such as the Washington Post have published articles declaring that the “Vatican says yes to blessings of same-sex unions” — but this is gravely misleading, and not representative of what has actually been announced.

On the contrary, Victor “Tucho” Fernández, the head of the Holy Office, restated previous clarifications by the Vatican by beginning his letter (which has Pope Francis’s signature) thus: “this Declaration remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion.”

The letter later explained that any blessing must be given “without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage”. Doubling down, it firmly warned clerics:

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.
- Victor Manuel Fernández

So why the misinterpretation? Clearly, there are ambiguities in the statement that have caused major misunderstandings. For one, the document makes a quite legitimate distinction between “spontaneous blessing” and procedural and “ritual” blessings in an ecclesiastical setting. It supports the former for “same-sex couples” but not, and here is the important distinction, for “same-sex unions”, as the Washington Post is misreporting. 

I was recently one of the 1.6 million Catholic attendees at World Youth Day with the Pope in Lisbon. Whenever I saw a priest in a cassock, I would approach him and ask, “May I have a blessing, Father”, to which he would in every instance oblige. I would kneel and bow my head, as the priest would make a sign of the cross in the air, on my forehead, or would lay his hand on my scalp. This is fairly normal in a Catholic setting.

This is the “spontaneous blessing” Fernández and the Church encourage for homosexuals. They may be given to anyone — lay Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, or “spiritual but not religious”. They are very brief, comparably far less formal, and aimed at a specific and unique human person as a soul in need of divine help to live well – rather than an affirmation or confirmation of any specific circumstances. In other words, the Church is there to help any soul in need, but she can’t encourage any behaviour or lifestyle she holds as contrary to their own good.

The distinction between blessing the couple, who are understood as a pair of sinners no different from any other in this regard, and blessing the union itself (which would be seen as an endorsement) has been thus poorly understood. Yesterday’s document, by placing so much emphasis on the fact the couples are invited to one (non-affirming) form of blessing and not another (which would legitimise and encourage same-sex sexual activity), can be understood as partly to blame in its eagerness to reassure readers of the Church’s inclusivity.

Which brings us to the second aspect of the document which must be explained in context: why was it published?

Bishops in Belgium published a 2022 document which contradicted earlier Vatican clarifications (this time reprimanding the famously liberal German bishops) that the Church cannot, and is powerless to, bless sin and thus same-sex unions. The latest document appears to be a magisterial response (at least indirectly) to those who may be liable to erroneously take the Belgian bishops’ position. The perpetuation of any sinful activity is not something the Church can ever encourage.

This story, then, leaves us with a paradox. Two otherwise liberal senior clerics wanted to reprimand and remind even more progressive bishops than them that they may not take their take their outreach efforts to the LGBT+ community too far. Yet in their attempts at clarity, they caused the precise confusion they were attempting to tackle.


Thomas Colsy is an editorial assistant at the Catholic Herald.

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N Satori
N Satori
6 months ago

Thin end of the wedge. Ambiguity will inevitably work to the liberal’s advantage (as it always does) in causing traditional authority to be incrementally softened until it is palatable to liberal tastes.

Last edited 6 months ago by N Satori
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

“Thin end of the wedge”
The only immutable sociological principle, and it is always intentional

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
6 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Actually the wedge has been getting pushed in since about what 2014?

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
6 months ago

“So why the misinterpretation?”

Obviously, it’s a deliberate strategy to raise expectations and recruit disappointed cry-bullies who will continue the work of colonisation.

R Wright
R Wright
6 months ago

“Clearly, there are ambiguities in the statement that have caused major misunderstandings”
It’s wilful ignorance, not a misunderstanding. The Vatican were idiotic here in expecting it to be interpreted in the least progressive way possible instead of the most.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
6 months ago

“Yet in their attempts at clarity, they caused the precise confusion they were attempting to tackle.”
No, the confusion and ambiguity are part of the Pope’s strategy to revolutionize the Church.

Ida March
Ida March
6 months ago

In 2019, Pope Francis was accused of heresy by 19 prominent Catholic theologians and academics.
Their ‘Open Letter to the Bishops of the World’ asked that the necessary steps be taken “to deal with a heretical Pope”.
To date, nothing has been done, despite more accusations being made. And so here he is again, hiding behind ambiguity, as he continues the destruction of the Church begun by the Second Vatican Council.
Francis utters a new heresy practically every week. The man is not Catholic in any way.
Francis is not the Pope. There is no Pope.
Sede vacante.

Last edited 6 months ago by Ida March
N Satori
N Satori
6 months ago
Reply to  Ida March

Do you have any inside info on the “St Gallen Mafia”?

Ida March
Ida March
6 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Not really, apart from the members being a bunch of uber-Modernists who lobbied to have Bergoglio elected ‘pope’.

Janet G
Janet G
6 months ago

It is going “too far” to use the acronym LGBT+. People who move in church circles are keen to reach out to what they see as a “community” that does not exist.

Are you aware that many LGB people reject the forced teaming that the acronym represents? LGB accept biological sex. The T+ at the end represents people who see biology as not at all important, or at least far less important than the gender feeling or sense that an individual has internally. “Gender identity” and “sex” do not go together. The two belief systems are incompatible. If you want to know more about LGB objections to the acronym see the LGB Alliance’s page https://lgballiance.org.uk/dont-call-me-queer/

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
6 months ago
Reply to  Janet G

In this instance, the full LGBT+ acronym is perfectly accurate. Both LGB and TQ-plussers deny various aspects of Catholic and Christian teaching on sex and the givenness of the sexed individual. They just disagree with one another on those aspects.

The influence and reach of the TQs would never have happened without the mainstreaming of the LGBs.

Last edited 6 months ago by Derek Smith
Janet G
Janet G
6 months ago
Reply to  Derek Smith

The TQs have piggy-backed on the LGB and used them for their own ends. The “full LGBT+ acronym” is offensive to me and many others.
In fact, the TQ work actively against gays and lesbians, for example, insisting that children and adolescents who express discomfort about sex-role behaviours expected of them must be “affirmed” as transgender. These children/adolescents receive puberty blockers that lead to cross-sex hormones. Research has shown that had these children not been thus “affirmed” (and physically harmed) many would have grown up to be gay or lesbian.
People who question Catholic teaching do not thereby belong to the same community. That LGBs and TQs might question or disagree with orthodox Catholic teaching does not make LGBs and TQs part of the same “community”, any more than atheists, Muslims and Hindus belong to the same “community”.
The most dangerous aspect of the TQ is the ideology espoused that seeks to destroy the family and to undermine the fabric of society. That is not something that LGBs seek to do.

Last edited 6 months ago by Janet G
Derek Smith
Derek Smith
6 months ago
Reply to  Janet G

Historically, the early gay liberationists wanted to do exactly that. That is the whole basis of the ‘queering’ of society. One leads to the other. You may not like that, but here we are.

Gregory Toews
Gregory Toews
6 months ago

“gravely misleading, and not representative”. Not representative of what? It seems to be representative of the notion that homosexuality isn’t inconsistent with God’s nature, or purpose for us and our sexuality. Quite a departure.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
6 months ago

Doctrine vs culture. The cultural bending of CofE was the reason I left last Autumn. They got off the top of the pinhead they were atrempting to balance on and revealed themselves as hyper-liberals.

Geoff W
Geoff W
6 months ago

The crux of this article seems to be in the second-last paragraph, but it’s so badly written that I don’t understand the sequence of events. I THINK the following is what the author is trying to say, but could someone with more knowledge than me perhaps confirm or correct it?
1. Some German bishops wanted to bless same-sex unions.
2. The Vatican said that German bishops COULDN’T bless same-sex unions.
3. Some Belgian bishops supported the German bishops, and contradicted the Vatican.
4. The recent statement reasserts 2, slapping down the German and Belgian bishops.

Last edited 6 months ago by Geoff W
Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
6 months ago

The author seems confused in what exactly is being blessed. At one point saying it is the individual person (using his own experience as an example) while overlooking the thrust of the article and his own quotes – that it is the union that is being blessed. It is sad that recourse has to be made to clarification by senior officials but this is what the pope has said and it takes more than a little linguistic juggling for his minders to extricate him from a troubling position. Unfortunately, stopping short of a marriage service is hardly a denunciation and will be taken by liberal bishops as a green light whether the author likes it or not. The pope’s clarification to the Belgian bishops actually makes it less ambiguous than his initial statement in allowing anything up to the point of a marriage ceremony to be used as a blessing.

David Pogge
David Pogge
6 months ago

Catholicism, like all religions, is a set of beliefs that are deemed to be divine, sacred, and essential by those who embrace that faith. If you don’t like those beliefs and don’t want to judge the value of your life and your actions by them, then don’t be Catholic. But if you wish to be Catholic you must judge your life and actions by them. Like almost every Catholic, you must recognize that some of your actions go against those beliefs and therefore you are a sinner – with all that this entails. But to wish to be Catholic and to complain that some of your actions should not be regarded as sinful by Catholic doctrine because it makes you feel bad is just special pleading. Renounce your Catholicism or accept your status as a sinner, but stop trying to force the Catholics to change their doctrinal beliefs just because it would make you feel better. That is simply unfair.

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
6 months ago

If a non-married cohabitating couple can be blessed, I guess it would make sense for a gay couple. Sexual sin is sexual sin, so you either have to bless both or neither if you want to be consistent. Still, this is one of many small steps the Pope has taken to liberalize the Catholic church.
Dismissal of hell, “who am I to judge” on LGBT, good works lead atheists to heaven… Yikes. Thank God I’m a protestant and don’t have to defend papal infallibility (and yes, I know that only applies ex cathedra…).

Simon Tavanyar
Simon Tavanyar
6 months ago
Reply to  Wyatt W

I’m not a Catholic so excuse my ignorance of the specific terminology of Papal “blessing”. Does it mean anything more than “God is for you”? Does it confer approval on your behavior? When Christ died for sinners. He didn’t confer blessing on their sin, but because of His shed blood, by confession, sinners have entrance to the presence of God. (And if that isn’t a blessing, I don’t know what is.) God blesses repentant sinners. Perhaps the Pope is saying, “Yes, your repentance is genuine”?

Wyatt W
Wyatt W
6 months ago
Reply to  Simon Tavanyar

I think the article lays it out pretty well. This is specifically for spontaneous blessings done in every Catholic setting, not a papal blessing.
This is the “spontaneous blessing” Fernández and the Church encourage for homosexuals. They may be given to anyone — lay Catholic, Buddhist, Hindu, or “spiritual but not religious”. They are very brief, comparably far less formal, and aimed at a specific and unique human person as a soul in need of divine help to live well – rather than an affirmation or confirmation of any specific circumstances. In other words, the Church is there to help any soul in need, but she can’t encourage any behaviour or lifestyle she holds as contrary to their own good.
I’m confused to your last sentence, who’s repentance are you referring to? If it’s the same-sex couple… well they wouldn’t stay a couple if they repented.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
6 months ago
Reply to  Simon Tavanyar

But how could repentance possibly be genuine without a firm purpose of amendment?

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
6 months ago

This particular pope seems weak – but he is there at a time of great change. The question is – if you are a religion should you, and when should you change the religion with the times?
During the first part of the 20th century (up to and including Pius XI) the Catholic Church was anti-Liberal and it insinuated that the Liberals were the Jews. So this led to a lot of anti-Jewish feeling in Europe.
Since the 60s, the succession of popes have been not-quite catching up with events in the world. The top man, the pope, is supposed to be in charge but he he disseminates information through his office and through newspapers – Civiltà Cattolica being the main one. The Vatican office and the newspapers change the words ever-so-slightly. So there is confusion – deliberate confusion?
The Catholic Herald reported on Shane MacGowan’s funeral last week. The writer thought that it was disgusting with a band playing close to the altar. They even used the original words to ‘A Fairy Tale of New York’. Horrors!!!. I thought it was brilliant.

Paul K
Paul K
6 months ago

The writer thought that it was disgusting with a band playing close to the altar. They even used the original words to ‘A Fairy Tale of New York’. Horrors!!!.

If you’re a Catholic, it is a horror, yes. That’s a profane use of a sacred building. I can’t imagine something similar happening in a mosque or a gurdwara, or an Orthodox church. Those places take faith seriously, and know that its job is not to ‘catch up with the world’ but to live both alongside and outside it.

Last edited 6 months ago by Paul K