For Catholics, When are ‘Blessings’ Not ‘Weddings’?


(ANALYSIS) The same-sex blessings near Cologne Cathedral were a public salute to scores of private ceremonies among European Catholics in recent years.

The crowd waved rainbow flags and, according to media reports, sang “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles. The mid-September rites included Catholic priests reciting blessings for same-sex and heterosexual couples and, though held outside of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s cathedral, represented a bold ecclesiastical affront to the city’s conservative archbishop.

Are these rites “weddings”? That was a crucial issue raised by five cardinals in “dubia” (Latin for “doubts”) questions sent to Pope Francis weeks before the Vatican’s global “Synod on Synodality,” which opened this week. The five cardinals requested “yes” or “no” answers.

READ: Pope Francis Signals Shift The Church Open To Blessing Same-Sex Unions

Instead, the pope offered a detailed analysis in which he restated established Catholic doctrines, noting that “the reality that we call marriage has a unique essential constitution that demands an exclusive name.” Thus, the church should avoid rites giving the “impression that something that is not marriage is recognized as marriage.”

Nevertheless, Pope Francis — writing in July — urged “pastoral charity” in this issue. Thus, the “defense of objective truth is not the only expression of this charity, which is also made up of kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement. Therefore, we cannot become judges who only deny, reject, exclude.

“For this reason, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing … that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage. For when a blessing is requested, one is expressing a request for help from God, a plea for a better life, a trust in a Father who can help us to live better.”

This drew praise from Francis DeBernardo, leader of the New Ways Ministry for Catholics seeking changes in centuries of Christian doctrine on sexuality.

“The allowance for pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God,” he wrote. The pope’s declaration represents “an enormous advance. … This statement is one big straw towards breaking the camel’s back of the marginalized treatment LGBTQ+ people experience in the Church.”

The Vatican’s release of these “dubia” documents underlined the importance of the historic global synod — which will address issues in church life including the ordination of women, the status of LGBTQ+ believers, clerical celibacy and changes for divorced Catholics seeking Holy Communion.

A strategic leader is Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, who until recently led the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union and was the pope’s choice as “relator general” for the synod, shaping official documents produced before and after the two-year process.

In a 2022 interview with the Catholic news agency KDA, he said Catholic teachings on “homosexual relationships as sinful are wrong. … I believe that the sociological and scientific foundation of this doctrine is no longer correct. It is time for a fundamental revision of Church teaching, and the way in which Pope Francis has spoken of homosexuality could lead to a change in doctrine.”

That kind of shift would shake centuries of doctrine, noted the “dubia” authors — American Cardinal Raymond Burke, German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, Mexican Cardinal Sandoval Íñiguez, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah and Cardinal Joseph Zen, former Bishop of Hong Kong.

Thus, they asked: “Is it possible for the Church today to teach doctrines contrary to those she has previously taught in matters of faith and morals, whether by the Pope ex cathedra, or in the definitions of an Ecumenical Council, or in the ordinary universal magisterium” of bishops around the world?

Pope Francis discussed development in doctrines, and claims of absolute truth, during recent remarks in Lisbon, according to a transcript from the Jesuit journal La Civiltà Cattolica. He criticized Catholics guilty of “backwardness,” including Americans who let “ideologies replace faith” and cause divisions among Catholics.

“I would like to remind those people that indietrismo (being backward-looking) is useless and we need to understand that there is an appropriate evolution in the understanding of matters of faith and morals,” he said. Thus, it’s important to accept that “our understanding of the human person changes with time, and our consciousness also deepens. The other sciences and their evolution also help the Church in this growth in understanding. The view of Church doctrine as monolithic is erroneous.”

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