Social media is abuzz with the news that Pope Francis has given approval for the blessing of same sex unions. While upholding the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman for life, some say he has also allowed the blessing of same sex unions according to the “pastoral discernment” of individual priests.
This is the takeaway from the Holy Father’s answers to five cardinals who have asked for clarification. However, we must hope for some further clarification as to what this actually means in practice. Some commentators say it is an opening to the blessing of same sex unions. Others say it is simply an opening for a person or persons with same sex attraction to receive a prayer of blessing to lead a better life. The strength (and weakness) of the ambiguous statement is that both sides will take it to mean whatever they want it to mean. We need to wait to see how much substance there is to the pope’s answer, but it does seem that his pastoral opinion on this matter has been expressed, and I expect folks like Fr James Martin and those who work at New Ways Ministry will pick up the fumble and run for a touchdown.
I will get on to some larger questions in a moment, but if it is true that blessings of same sex unions are permissible, let us consider the practical implications. Firstly, consider the burden this places upon already stressed and overworked clergy. So now I, as a parish priest, must make this decision? What if I “discern” not to conduct a blessing for a same sex couple? What if my decision upsets them and their friends and family? What if they create a media storm over my decision? What if I am hounded and harassed by activists?
Thank you Holy Father, for handing me a scorpion. Your weakness and allowing yourself to be bullied by sentimentalists has thrown me and all your priests under the bus.
The second practical problem is this: What exactly IS a blessing for same sex couples? Is there a liturgy for this or do I make one up? If I make one up where do I go for the texts? Surely if I were making this up I would turn first to the liturgy for matrimony for words and ideas. If I did how would this avoid the implication that this was a wedding? Why would the Holy Father say this new liturgy is a possibility without providing the resources to do so?
If this is a blessing of a same sex union will it include the couple making a vow of permanent celibacy–because if this does not change the timeless teaching of the magisterium, surely that is the only form of same sex friendship that might be blessed.
While I am thankful that such blessings are not to imply that they are a “marriage” in any way, how is this possible? How do we make this clear to a poorly catechized, sentimentalized Catholic population? In this listening age should we not listen to our “ecumenical partners” and find out what the experience of the Anglicans, Lutherans and Methodists has been in this matter?
I can tell you, when Anglicans started blessing same sex umions, they became fake weddings. The church was booked, the flowers were ordered, the music was arranged, the clergy wore vestments, the cake was ordered, the “brides” or “grooms” turned up in their fancy clothes and the whole thing was concluded with a splashy reception. How will any priest who wishes to “not imply that this is a wedding” disallow such things? Indeed, why should he? If the blessing is a celebration of that union, why not celebrate it with all the fixings?
Furthermore, in most places now the state does not conduct “same sex civil unions” they now conduct “same sex weddings” So if a same sex couple comes to church after their civil “wedding” the church is, in fact, blessing what they call a wedding. What is the well meaning priest going to do? Stand up at the beginning of the blessing and say, “Garry and Larry, what you have just done at the justice of the peace is NOT actually a wedding. You’re not married. You can’t be married. But we are now going to bless your friendship.”? C’mon.
These are some of the practical matters that it seems no one has thought through.
But what are the bigger issues? The situation here is something we have seen throughout this decade long pontificate, and that is the priority of the pastoral over the doctrinal. Time and again the pope and his colleagues have affirmed Catholic truth in principle while pleading for the “pastoral” approach. So, for example, “It is absolutely true and unchangeable that a person who is divorced and re-married should not present themselves to receive communion” However…in certain pastoral circumstances it may be best to admit such a person for their own salvation and to show the loving and forgiving face of the church.”
In fact all pastors walk the tightrope between the hard teachings of the church and real people in real situations. What we need from the Pope is both charity AND clarity. The charity of a kind pastoral approach is only made possible by the clarity of the timeless teaching and truth of the gospel. Confusion is neither clarity nor charity.
What are the root causes of this confusion? In my book Beheading Hydra have laid out sixteen ideologies or “isms” that have infected our society and our church. I have also pointed out three reactions various Catholics have taken to the threat of modern ideologies in the past.
The first is force. The Inquisition goes into overdrive. There is an index of forbidden books. Theologians and clergy have to sign an oath of loyalty. Catholic schools, religious orders and universities have checks on orthodoxy. The hammer comes down. People are forced out.
This never works. The dissent just goes underground. A martyr’s complex develops. The opposition grows stronger.
The second is accommodation. This is the way of accompaniment. Reasonable people say about the enemies of the faith, “Let us listen to them. Let us give them the benefit of the doubt. Find points of agreement. Build dialogue. Work with them and love them.
This only weakens the faith.
The third option is what I call “Radical Christianity” –remembering that the word “radical” means “root”. So back to the roots. Simply live out the Christian faith at the local level in a radical way. Learn the faith. Study the Scriptures. Learn Church history. Teach your children. Love the Lord. Pray more. Give generously. Strive for chastity and love in all things. Work for peace and justice. Fight the pro life battles. Help the needy, the marginalized, the poor and the lonely.
In other words, simply and radically live out the faith where you are locally.
And don’t worry about the pope and the prelates in Rome or Germany or Washington DC. As a Catholic you are not bound by their pastoral opinions. Your faith is grounded in the redemptive work of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the revelation of that work in the Sacred Scriptures interpreted by the whole magisterium of the Catholic Church. Your faith is not tied to the pastoral opinions of prelates.
If you think the prelates are corrupt, power hungry, immoral and misguided–leave them to the Lord. Pray for them as you are commanded.
Put your trust in the Lord Jesus. Love his Blessed Mother. Pray with the saints and angels.
And be at peace.