EDITOR’S NOTE.  It looks like the Pope’s “blessing” to gay couples has backfired. But how this controversy will end up, it’s not clear yet.  The most severe result will be the delay of the Vatican’s plan to re-unify with the Eastern Churches: The Russian Patriarchate has declared so already (through Metropolitan Hilarion of Hungary), while Pat. Bartholomew is feeling the pressure from Mt.Athos and many Hierarchs in Greece, Cyprus, and other churches… And will likely postpone this re-unifying process…

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The Catholic world’s reaction to the blessing of same-sex couples

04 January 12:25
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A Vatican document on the blessing of same-sex couples has caused disagreement in the RCC. Photo: UOJA Vatican document on the blessing of same-sex couples has caused disagreement in the RCC. Photo: UOJ

After the Vatican opened up the blessing of same-sex couples, a wave of mostly negative reaction swept the Catholic world. Where can this lead to?

On 18 December 2023, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith published the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans”, which speaks of the possibility of blessing same-sex couples. At the same time, the Declaration affirms the invariability of Catholic teaching on marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The blessing of same-sex couples is not presented as the sacrament of marriage or the Church’s approval of same-sex relationships but as a pastoral blessing of two people for all that is good. So, the bottom line is that blessing same-sex unions is not permissible but “spontaneous blessings” of same-sex couples are allowed. Probably, the Vatican seriously believed that this linguistic equilibrium would satisfy both supporters of the traditional teaching on marriage and those who advocate the Church’s legalisation of same-sex relationships. But sitting on two chairs did not work. The Catholics got it right: the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” opens the door to the recognition of same-sex couples/unions/partnerships/marriages/cohabitations, etc.

Reaction of Catholics

The Catholic bishops of Kazakhstan wrote in their Address to Pope Francis: “The fact that the Declaration does not allow ‘marriages’ of same-sex couples should not blind priests and the faithful to the great deception and evil of allowing the blessing of same-sex couples. That is, they did not fall for the Declaration’s many assurances of adherence to traditional marriage teaching and realise that things are heading towards full recognition of same-sex marriage.

“None of the aforementioned declarations of the Holy See, even the most beautiful statements, can diminish the fact that such legitimate blessings have far-reaching devastating consequences,” the Kazakh bishops wrote. They asked the pontiff to withdraw his approval of the blessing of same-sex couples and forbade their clerics from blessing gay couples.

This appeal, though rather harsh, is still within the bounds of diplomatic etiquette. But in private conversations, Kazakh bishops were more explicit. For example, Bishop Athanasius Schneider in an interview with “The Remnant” said: “This document and its impudent use of pious words struck me as an artifice of Pharisaism and a mockery of the natural and revealed law of God. In applying Fiducia supplicans, St John the Baptist could have imparted a “spontaneous” and “pastoral blessing” to the irregular union of Herod and Herodias.”

The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in Malawi (Africa) have opposed the Vatican’s decision on blessing same-sex unions, ordering that “blessings of any kind and same-sex unions of any kind are not permitted in Malawi for pastoral reasons”.

In the United Kingdom, more than 500 priests spoke out against the “Fiducia supplicans” Declaration, stating that it “opens the door to blessings for same-sex couples in the Catholic Church”.

Former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, referred to the blessing of same-sex marriages as sacrilege. Literally: “The blessing of a reality that opposes creation is not only not possible, but constitutes blasphemy.” He also criticized the attempt to present the blessing of same-sex couples as an innocent act of a priest with people approaching him. “Note that here not only sinful people are blessed, but by blessing the couple, the sinful relationship itself is blessed,” emphasized the Cardinal. Like Kazakh Bishop Athanasius Schneider, he extrapolated the Gospel to the current situation. “I believe that today Jesus would not be condemned only because he’s a messiah, but he would, in Canada, the United States, and European countries, go to prison because he spoke out the truth about marriage between a man and a woman,” Müller declared.

Pope Francis’ long-time critic, former Vatican Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, went the furthest in his outrage at the blessing of same-sex couples. He called the Pope and his entire hierarchy servants of Satan without too many diplomatic curtsies: “The declaration finally breaks through the veil of hypocrisy and deception of the Bergoglian (Pope Francis’ last name is Bergoglio – Ed.) hierarchy, showing these false shepherds for what they are: servants of Satan and his most zealous allies.” Vigano called the modern Vatican “an abomination of desolation” and Pope Francis “a usurper who sits on the Throne of the Apostle Peter” and “sins against the Holy Spirit.” Recall that, according to Christ, “whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age nor in the coming [one]” (Matt. 12:32).

But the reaction of the Catholic world to the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” was not entirely negative. Some welcomed it. For example, in Italy, a Catholic priest set up an LGBT “Christmas scene” in his church, in which he placed a figure of the Mother of God and another woman.

And to leave no one in doubt about what the priest wanted to say, he said he “wanted to show that families are no longer traditional”. All those Catholics who not only approve of the blessing of same-sex couples but also explicitly demand it from Pope Francis, agree with him.

The proponents of liberalisation in the Catholic Church certainly see the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” as their victory, but far from a final one, only as a step towards making traditional marriage equal to same-sex unions. It can be assumed that they will not be satisfied with the blessing of same-sex couples and will demand that the Church recognize same-sex unions as full-fledged marriages and grant blessings specifically for such cohabitation.

Implications for the Vatican

The Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” was intended as a document that could reconcile somehow both supporters and opponents of recognising same-sex marriage However, it seems to have turned out the opposite way: opponents of blessing same-sex unions were not satisfied with the declaration’s assurances of commitment to the traditional teaching, and LGBT supporters were hardly satisfied with same-sex unions being blessed differently than traditional marriages. Thus, the Declaration has further exacerbated the division within Catholicism over attitudes toward the LGBT community. So what might happen next?

It is highly unlikely that Pope Francis will honour the request of the Kazakh bishops and withdraw his approval of the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans”. Firstly, it would mean that the Pope has admitted his mistake, and popes, as we know, do not err. Of course, the papal approval of the Declaration is not a proclamation of a doctrinal dogma ex cathedra, which is recognised as the criterion of truth. Nevertheless, the Pope cannot admit the fallibility of any of his decisions, as it would undermine the Pontiff’s authority and cast doubt on the correctness of his other decisions.

Secondly, Pope Francis takes into account the opinions of a significant part of Catholics who support the recognition of same-sex marriages. It is possible that within Catholicism, their numbers may even exceed those supporting the traditional doctrine.

Thirdly, it would contradict the personal convictions of Pope Francis himself, who is known to sympathize with members of the LGBT community.

Therefore, the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” is likely to remain in effect. The question is how rigorously it will be implemented. In this regard, the position of Ukrainian Greek Catholics is interesting. On the official website of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), a Сommunication signed by the head of the UGCC, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, was published. It claims that the Declaration allegedly applies only to Roman Catholics, not to the Eastern Catholic Churches, and that it “has no legal force for the believers of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church”. A Jesuit style in all its glory. Shevchuk attempts to pretend that it goes about certain traditions, different from Roman Catholicism, that the UGCC has the right to have.

However, “Fiducia supplicans” is not a description of customs but a Doctrinal Declaration issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by the head of the Catholic Church. By its status, it applies to the entire Catholic world, of which the UGCC is a part. Shevchuk’s statement should be interpreted as an attempt to appease those UGCC supporters who completely reject the blessing of same-sex marriages, and these are the majority in the UGCC today. But let’s see what S. Shevchuk will say if the Verkhovna Rada legalises same-sex marriages in Ukraine (God forbid, of course), and our authorities begin to put pressure on religious organisations on this issue.

Both the UGCC and those Catholic hierarchs in different countries who have declared their unwillingness to follow the provisions of the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” on blessing same-sex couples may face significant problems. Imagine a situation where, for example, Sviatoslav Shevchuk is approached by two homosexuals with the text of the Declaration in hand, saying something like: “We are a same-sex couple; please bless us ‘so that all that is true, good, and humanly valuable in our life and relationships may be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit’ ” (a quote from the Declaration). If S. Shevchuk or the Kazakh bishops refuse to bless them, these gays may file a complaint with the Vatican for non-compliance with the Declaration, demand action, and, of course, publicise the refusal. And what if there are not just one or two such same-sex couples but dozens or hundreds?

Will the Vatican be able to tolerate a situation where the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” is observed in some countries but not in others? Most likely, yes. However, can the Catholic Church maintain its unity when some hierarchs consider the blessing of same-sex couples contrary to Sacred Scripture and Church teaching, making it categorically unacceptable, while other bishops actively engage in such blessings? It’s already hard to imagine.

The struggle between supporters and opponents of the LGBT community within Catholicism will continue and reach its climax when the time comes for the conclave of cardinals to elect a new pope. The candidates’ stance on LGBT issues may become one of the main criteria for election. It can be assumed that, regardless of whichever pope is elected, supporters of the opposing position will disagree with the election results. Given the historical experience of Catholicism, we might witness a situation with the coexistence of a pope and an anti-pope.

Implications for the ecumenical process

Another crucial question that has become significantly acute in connection with the Vatican’s approval of blessing same-sex couples is the further ecumenical process with Orthodoxy. The former head of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Hilarion of Budapest, stated in an interview with The American Conservative that the blessing of LGBT couples approved by the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” makes further discussions about the reunification of Catholics and Orthodox impossible. When asked whether the Declaration puts an end to Catholic and Orthodox discussions about the possibility of Church reunification after the Great Schism of 1054, Metropolitan Hilarion responded affirmatively.

However, the situation is not that simple. Patriarch Bartholomew has heavily invested in the theme of reunification with the Vatican, staking his entire authority on it, and he cannot afford to back down now. The Ecumenical Patriarch has repeatedly stated that such reunification is inevitable. Therefore, it can be assumed that unifying processes between the Vatican and the Ecumenical Patriarchate will continue despite the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans”. Moreover, representatives of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have made explicit gestures in favour of the LGBT community, for instance, Archbishop Elpidophoros (Lambriniadis)’s widely publicized baptism of a gay couple’s children.

And here is the latest news: on 6 January 2023, Greek politician Stefanos Kasselakis, an open gay, will attend the Epiphany Day liturgy at St George’s Church in Phanar, to be celebrated by Patriarch Bartholomew, and then travel with him to Istanbul’s Golden Horn Bay to consecrate the water.

 

The Catholic world's reaction to the blessing of same-sex couples фото 1

 

Patriarch Bartholomew and Stefanos Kasselakis. Photo: twitter.com/skasselakis

All this suggests that the Phanar is far from rejecting the possibility of certain changes in its stance towards LGBT+. Therefore, it can be assumed that for the Patriarchate of Constantinople, the blessing of same-sex couples will not be an obstacle to the unification with the Vatican.

The situation might be different for other Local Churches. It is no secret that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is making an enormous effort to persuade these Churches to participate in ecumenical processes. But for them, the Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” may become an argument for refusal. So, the Phanar may find itself uniting with the Vatican in proud isolation. Considering that such a union could occur on the 1700th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council, which will be celebrated in 2025, we may soon find answers to all these questions.

2 COMMENTS

  1. So, if the pope tells his priests to bless same-sex couples will he also allow birth control? Because this move denies the Roman Catholic doctrine that sex is only for pro-creation.

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