Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Dec 21, 2023 / 16:51 pm (CNA).
More Catholic bishops have publicly declared their opposition to the Vatican’s Fiducia Supplicans document, which permits nonliturgical blessings of homosexual couples, while others have come forward to express support for the new guidance.
Some, including Cardinal Gerhard Müller and several bishops in Africa, have firmly denounced the Vatican’s document, which was published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and signed by Pope Francis, and have taken steps to either prohibit or discourage priests from imparting any blessings of homosexual couples.
Others, like the German Bishops’ Conference and several Austrian bishops, have welcomed the document, while the Central Committee of German Catholics, an influential lay Catholic group supported by some German bishops, has since gone a step further and moved forward with proposals for formalized blessings of same-sex couples.
Still others, including many U.S. bishops, have taken a middle approach, welcoming the document’s reaffirmation of Church teaching on marriage between one man and one woman but cautioning priests to avoid giving any impression of celebrating a so-called “gay wedding” or condoning homosexual behavior in any way.
Who is opposing the document?
In addition to the bishops in Kazakhstan, Malawi, and Zambia, who said they would refuse to implement the Vatican declaration, a few more bishops have since condemned the new guidance.
Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who previously led the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2012 to 2017, published a lengthy response on Thursday in which he said that any priest blessing a homosexual union would be committing a “sacrilegious and blasphemous act against the Creator’s plan and against Christ’s death for us.”
“Blessing a reality that is contrary to creation is not only impossible, it is blasphemy,” Müller said. “God cannot send his grace upon a relationship that is directly opposed to him and cannot be ordered toward him … if this blessing were given, its only effect would be to confuse the people who receive it or who attend it. They would think that God has blessed what he cannot bless. This ‘pastoral’ blessing would be neither pastoral nor a blessing. It is true that Cardinal Fernandez, in later statements to Infovaticana, said that it is not the union that is blessed, but the couple. However, this is emptying a word of its meaning, since what defines a couple as couple is precisely their being a union.”
“According to the criterion of this type of blessings,” Müller said, “one could even bless an abortion clinic or a Mafia group.”
Müller also said that allowing the blessing of same-sex couples directly contradicts earlier guidance published by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2021 and is entirely unprecedented and not based on any Church doctrine, biblical teaching, or any writings by Church Fathers or doctors of the Church.
Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), sent a letter to all the bishops of Africa on Thursday in which he said the “ambiguity” of this Vatican document “lends itself to numerous interpretations and manipulations,” which “arouses much perplexity among the faithful.”
Ambongo told his brother bishops that “as pastors of the Church in Africa, we must express ourselves clearly on this issue in order to give clear direction to our Christians.”
He called for bishops to voice their opinions about the Vatican document so that the African Church can publish a “single synodal declaration” that “will serve as a general guideline for all local Churches on our continent.”
Also among the voices of opposition was Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganó, who urged his fellow bishops to prevent what he called “these sacrilegious blessings” in their dioceses.
The U.K. Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, which represents some 500 British priests and deacons, also spoke against the document, saying: “We see no situation in which such a blessing of a couple could be properly and adequately distinguished from some level of approval. Thus, it would inevitably lead to scandal — to the individuals concerned — to those involved directly or indirectly in the blessing — or to the minister himself.”
“From our own experience as pastors,” the Confraternity went on, “we conclude that such blessings are pastorally and practically inadmissible.”
Bishops who embrace blessing homosexual couples
Austrian Bishop Josef Marketz of the Diocese of Gurk said he was “happy and grateful” for the document and called it “an important step for an open Church.”
Marketz said that homosexual couples “are not second-class Christians” and that the DDF’s 2021 declaration ruling out the blessings of homosexual couples “rightly hurt and offended many people.”
According to Marketz, the Vatican’s new guidance is characterized by a “loving attention to the situation of people as well as their longing and desire for blessing, so that their life (together) can be good or even better under the loving gaze of God.”
Bishop Wilhelm Krautwaschl, another Austrian bishop of the Diocese of Graz-Seckau, also welcomed the declaration, going a step further by saying that “whoever asks for the blessing shows that he or she or both need the saving presence of God, and this blessing must not be refused.”
Bishops urging caution
Other bishops, including many U.S. bishops, have released statements that while not condemning the Vatican declaration urge priests to take special care in imparting blessings to homosexual couples so as not to cause confusion or scandal.
Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, issued a statement on Dec. 20 in which he said that “any new Vatican statement, particularly if it relates to controversial moral issues” must be read “in continuity with the Church’s full and unambiguous moral doctrine.”
“Fiducia Supplicans is clear that this is not a change in the Church’s teaching about marriage. Because the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage is rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is unchangeable,” Conley said.
“Love is rooted in truth. It is our duty as Christians to call everyone to the truth, so they may experience the ultimate love — God’s love. We can show that love to others by praying for them, walking with them on their spiritual journey, and leading them to the truth of God’s word. We must be careful not to do anything to lead them away from the truth and away from God’s love.
“Let us at all times be clear and avoid confusion in our words and in our actions,” he added.
Bishop Robert Barron, head of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, and founder of the Catholic media apostolate Word on Fire, emphasized that the declaration “in no way sanctions irregular bonds or changes the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality” and that it “further specifies that no liturgical blessing can be offered to those in such unions, but rather an informal pastoral blessing.”
Barron said that the declaration “is very much congruent with the pastoral instincts of Pope Francis, who always wants to remind those who are living the Christian life in a less than perfect way that they are, nevertheless, loved and cherished by God.”
Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver also emphasized in a Wednesday statement that the Vatican’s declaration “in no way changes the Church’s teaching or practice on marriage or the sinfulness of sexual acts outside of the marital embrace of husband and wife. Rather, at every turn, it affirms what Christ, and the Church, has always taught regarding marriage.”
Bishop Oscar Cantu of the Diocese of San Jose, California, said the declaration maintains a “clear distinction between the sacrament of marriage and the spontaneous blessings for couples in non-sacramental unions” and “represents an important clarification that acknowledges and responds to the diverse realities of people’s lives while upholding the Church’s teachings on sacramental marriage.”
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria also issued a statement to the faithful in their dioceses saying that the conference “assures the entire people of God that the teaching of the Catholic Church on marriage remains the same” and that there is “no possibility in the Church of blessing same-sex unions and activities.”