Catholic bishops around the world are deeply divided on a Vatican declaration that permits nonliturgical blessings of homosexual couples: some bishops are welcoming the news, some are approaching it with caution, while others are outright refusing to implement it.
In some countries, including Austria, Germany, and France, many Church leaders have warmly embraced the new guidelines on blessings. The heads of the bishops’ conferences in both Germany and Austria have suggested that priests cannot refuse to perform blessings for homosexual couples.
Church leaders in other countries, namely the United States, the Philippines, Ukraine, Ghana, and Kenya, have mostly accepted the declaration but are also urging caution in its implementation. This, they say, is to avoid any confusion that would lead people to incorrectly believe the Church permits homosexual activity.
Alternatively, Church leaders in at least three countries are refusing to implement the declaration entirely: Kazakhstan, Malawi, and Zambia. Two Kazakh bishops have been more critical than others, going as far as admonishing Pope Francis for approving the declaration.
The declaration, titled Fiducia Supplicans, allows “spontaneous” pastoral blessings for “same-sex couples” and other couples in “irregular situations.” It does not allow liturgical blessings for homosexual couples and states the pastoral blessings “should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union and not even in connection with them” and cannot “be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”
Bishops embrace blessing of homosexual couples
Some of the most enthusiastic support for the Vatican declaration came from high-ranking Church officials in Austria, Germany, and France.
Archbishop Franz Lackner, who heads the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, expressed “joy” over the Vatican declaration, according to an interview with Österreichischer Rundfunk, an Austrian public media company.
The archbishop said a relationship between a man and a woman is “ideal,” but “a relationship between two of the same sex is not entirely without truth: love, loyalty, and even hardship are shared with one another.”
Lackner said it is difficult to speak of a “must” in terms of religious life but that “basically, [a priest] can no longer say no” to blessing a homosexual couple.
Austria’s neighbors to the north in Germany are similarly embracing the declaration.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, said he is “grateful for the pastoral perspective [the declaration] takes,” which he claims “points to the pastoral importance of a blessing that cannot be refused upon personal request.”
The bishop explained that blessings for homosexual couples are different from a marriage. He said that “a simple blessing need not and cannot require the same moral conditions that are required for receiving the sacraments.”
In France, Archbishop Hervé Giraud of the Archdiocese of Sens and Auxerre told the French Catholic news outlet La Croix that the declaration provides “another idea of blessing, a blessing of growth and not a blessing of pure recognition” and suggested that he may bless homosexual couples himself.
“I myself could give a blessing to a same-sex couple, because I believe it’s based on a beautiful idea of blessing, according to the Gospel and the style of Christ,” Giraud said.
Bishops taking a more cautious approach
Numerous bishops around the world have accepted the declaration from the Vatican but have cautioned against misrepresenting the guidelines in a way that would suggest that the Church condones homosexual behavior.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that highlighted the “distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings and pastoral blessings” and said: “The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.”
Diocesan approaches have varied. Some bishops, like Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, are emphasizing the Church’s continued prohibition on homosexual activities: “It is impossible for us to bless a same-sex union … [but] we may bless individuals who are not yet living in full accord with the Gospel,” the bishop said.
Other bishops, such as Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, suggested the Vatican document was a positive step for the Church. “We welcome this declaration, which will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God,” the cardinal said.
Filipino Archbishop Socrates Villegas of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan took a similar approach that emphasizes the Church’s teaching on homosexual behavior, saying that proper blessings for couples in irregular situations would be “asking God to have pity on both of them and to give them the grace of conversion so that they can regularize their relationships.”
“Priests who are invited to bless couples in irregular situations should choose the appropriate words to reveal this intent of the Church,” the archbishop said.
The statement from the Conference of Roman Catholic Bishops of Ukraine similarly said that the document provides “no ‘permission’ or ‘blessing’ for homosexual cohabitation or any life in sin.” The bishops were also critical of how the document was worded.
“What we missed in the document is that the Gospel calls sinners to conversion, and without a call to abandon the sinful life of homosexual couples, the blessing can look like approval,” the statement read.
Bishops in some African countries, such as Ghana and Kenya, also emphasized that the Church does not approve of homosexual activities when commenting on the declaration.
“If a gay couple goes to the priest to bless them, and the pope says yes, you are blessing the people and not the union,” Bishop Matthew Kwasi Gyamfi, the president of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference, said in an interview with Eyewitness News.
The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that noted that the Church works to “recover the lost and redirect all sinners back to the fount of salvation and of eternal life” but does not endorse sinful behavior, such as homosexual activity.
“In blessing persons, we do not bless the immoral actions they may perform but hope that the blessing and prayers offered over them as human persons will provoke them to conversion and to return to the ways of the Lord,” the statement read.
Bishops in three countries refuse to implement declaration
In at least three countries — Kazakhstan, Malawi, and Zambia — Church leaders are refusing to implement the Vatican declaration in any way.
Archbishop Tomash Peta and Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider of the Archdiocese of St. Mary in Astana, Kazakhstan, admonished Pope Francis and argued that the blessing of homosexual couples is a “great deception” and “evil” and has “far-reaching and destructive consequences.”
“To bless couples in an irregular situation and same-sex couples is a serious abuse of the most holy name of God since this name is invoked upon an objectively sinful union of adultery or of homosexual activity,” the joint statement read, adding that the Church becomes “a propagandist of the globalist and ungodly ‘gender ideology’” if it permits such blessings.
The bishops forbade priests from performing such blessings, called on Pope Francis to revoke the declaration, and claimed that Pope Francis “does not walk uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel,” quoting St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians.
The Episcopal Conference of Malawi issued a statement saying it would not allow its priests to bless homosexual unions but did not directly criticize the pontiff. Rather, their statement said “certain erroneous interpretations … have generated interest, fears, and worries among Catholics.”
“We direct that for pastoral reasons, blessings of any kind and for same-sex unions of any kind are not permitted in Malawi,” the statement read.
Bishops in Malawi’s neighbor to the West, Zambia, issued a similar statement, refusing to allow their priests to bless homosexual couples.
The Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops statement noted that the Vatican declaration “is not and should not be understood as an endorsement of same-sex unions,” noting that the Scripture “presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity.”
To avoid confusion, and to ensure the clergy does not violate any Zambian laws, the statement said the Vatican document will be “taken as for further reflection and not for implementation in Zambia.”
By Tyler Arnold/CNA