TO THE QUESTION (DUBIUM) PROPOSED:
Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?
—The March 15, 2021 response (one week ago) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium (question) regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex. The response led to protests in some places, especially in Austria and Germany (link), where groups of priests and bishops said the response was un-Christian, and that they would continue to bless same-sex couples in their relationships. Then, on Sunday, March 21 (two days ago), Pope Francis himself, in his Angelus message (link), seemed to distance himself from his own Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (link), saying that every Christian’s mission is to act like Christ, adding that this “means sowing seeds of love, not with fleeting words but through concrete, simple and courageous examples; not with theoretical condemnations but with gestures of love.” Francis added that “then the Lord, with his grace, makes us bear fruit, even when the soil is dry due to misunderstandings, difficulty or persecution or claims of legalism or clerical moralism. This is barren soil. Precisely then, in trials and in solitude, while the seed is dying, that is the moment in which life blossoms, to bear ripe fruit in due time.” And Francis concluded that “it is in this intertwining of death and life that we can experience the joy and true fruitfulness of love, which always, I repeat, is given in God’s style: closeness, compassion, tenderness.” Irish Vaticanist Gerard O’Connell, who writes for the American Jesuit magazine America, said that three of his Vatican sources close to the Pope had confirmed to him that with these words Pope Francis intended to “take his distance” from the Response given by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to the dubium. (link) And this led the Chilean journalist Luis Badilla, editor of the influential Il Sismografo website (link) — who is generally very supportive of Pope Francis — to virtually throw his hands up in the hair and say “Enough!” Badilla said that the Church is suffering from too much confusion if O’Connell is right, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on one day authoritatively forbids the blessing of same-sex relationships, and the Pope only days later “takes his distance” in an oblique way from that very judgment (link). Thus today it remains a mystery whether Francis did or did not approve of the response given by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It seems to this write that Badilla is correct when he says that “on Catholic doctrine, the hierarchy ought to be very very clear”
“It used to be said, ‘Roma locuta est, causa finita est‘ [“Rome has spoken, the case is closed”]: once the Holy See has expressed itself on a decisive doctrinal question, the discussion in the rest of the world is closed… Times have undoubtedly changed if, when a clear stance is expressed by the Vatican, it is greeted by silence, subtle distinctions, and open, vocal disputes, as has happened on the question of the blessing of homosexual couples.” —Jacopo Scaramuzzi, AskaNews, March 17, 2021, in a piece discussing reactions worldwide to the negative “responsum” of the Holy See to the question of whether the Church had the “power” to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex (see full article in Italian at this link and translated into English below)
“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law.” —Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, Paragraph 4. The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, in the Audience of March 28, 2003, approved the present Considerations… and ordered their publication. Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 3, 2003… Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Prefect, and Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Titular Archbishop of Sila, Secretary —
“Charity is to will the good for the other.” —St. Thomas Aquinas (link)
16 MARCH 2021, THE TABLET (link)
German bishops ‘not happy’ with same-sex blessing rule
by James Roberts, Christa Pongratz-Lippitt
German Catholic bishop Georg Bätzing (above), president of the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference, is “not happy” with the Holy See’s ruling against the official liturgical blessing by Catholic prelates of couples in same-sex relationships
The head of Germany’s Catholic bishops has indicated concern over this week’s Vatican ruling that the Church can never bless same-sex couples.
The German bishops’ conference president, Bishop Georg Bätzing, told KNA on 15 March that he was “not happy” that the Vatican had now decided to participate so determinedly in the debate on blessings for homosexual couples.
“It suggests that one wants to end the ongoing controversial theological discussions [on the subject] in various parts of the World Church, including in Germany, as soon as possible,” Bätzing said. “That is, however, impossible, as the issue is being intensively discussed with good arguments, and theological inquiries concerning today’s pastoral practice cannot simply be got rid of by laying down the law.”
The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC), a network of more than 40 organizations supporting LGBTIQ Catholics around the world, said: “This document is indeed a reactionary cry in response to the fresh air that is filling the Church from those parishes and lay communities around the world where blessings for same-gender couples are already a factual reality. The Vatican document, Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex, uses dubious theological arguments to reject the claims of a living Church that wants to reform outdated Catholic teachings on sexuality.”
Michael Brinkschroeder, a Catholic theologian and member of the German GNRC member groups Homosexuelle und Kirche and QueerGottesdienst Munich, said: “Many German bishops have expressed their support of blessing ceremonies in the past and it is a relevant issue of the conversation of the Synodal Path. The chair of the German Bishops’ Conference has received the argumentation as a contribution to the ongoing conversation, but also said that it requires major and deeper theological arguments.”
The National Network of Catholic LGBT Groups in Brazil said: “We are following today the repercussions of the regrettable declarations of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, by refusing the possibility that priests of the Church bless unions between people of the same sex. It is with outrage, but without major surprises, that we become aware of both the denial itself and the arguments by which the document seeks to justify it.
“We are outraged, but we are not surprised, because in this document we see that face of the Church that Christ himself criticized so harshly in the doctors of the law of His time. We see there that face of the Church that appropriates the power to interpret the Word of God not to propagate Life and make it flow in abundance, but to close doors and refuse to go to its People. By losing sight of the message of service, unconditional love and acceptance of the Gospel, the law becomes dead letter. This is the face of part of the Church, which falls, once again, into the empty legalism so often denounced by Christ.”
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in a statement issued on 15 March. Any form of blessing of a same-sex union is “illicit.” This judgment, the CDF said, is on the blessing of unions, not the people who may still receive a blessing as individuals.
However, the response to the question, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” was “negative.”
The statement was a response to a question or dubium that came from priests and lay faithful “who require clarification and guidance concerning a controversial issue,” the official commentary accompanying the statement said.
“It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage — i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life — as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” the explanatory note said. Pope Francis signed off both the statement and the note.
The statement sets a limit to the conciliatory approach to gay people that has marked the Francis pontificate, and contradicts calls from progressive bishops in Germany and elsewhere for approval of blessings of same-sex relationships.
While priests in Germany have been blessing such couples for years, the CDF said it was not permissible for clergy to pronounce blessings on any sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman.
The CDF employed the concept of “sacramentals”, a “category” to which blessings belong, to explain its ruling. Sacramentals“have been established as a kind of imitation of the sacraments, [therefore] it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord,” the explanatory note said.
Same-sex blessings are wrong, according to the CDF, because they would seem “to approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God … God does not and cannot bless sin.”
In comments published last year, the Pope expressed support for same-sex civil unions, saying that gay couples “have the right to be legally covered,” but he has also written: “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”
Key Official Vatican Text
Below is the complete text in question, of the dubium and the response regarding the blessing of same-sex unions.
The CDF Responsum ad Dubium: Church lacks power to bless same-sex unions; a blessing would also be illicit (link)
Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex
TO THE QUESTION PROPOSED:
Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?
In some ecclesial contexts, plans and proposals for blessings of unions of persons of the same sex are being advanced. Such projects are not infrequently motivated by a sincere desire to welcome and accompany homosexual persons, to whom are proposed paths of growth in faith, “so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives”.
On such paths, listening to the word of God, prayer, participation in ecclesial liturgical actions and the exercise of charity can play an important role in sustaining the commitment to read one’s own history and to adhere with freedom and responsibility to one’s baptismal call, because “God loves every person and the Church does the same”, rejecting all unjust discrimination.
Among the liturgical actions of the Church, the sacramentals have a singular importance: “These are sacred signs that resemble the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions of life are sanctified”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies, then, that “sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it” (#1670).
Blessings belong to the category of the sacramentals, whereby the Church “calls us to praise God, encourages us to implore his protection, and exhorts us to seek his mercy by our holiness of life”. In addition, they “have been established as a kind of imitation of the sacraments, blessings are signs above all of spiritual effects that are achieved through the Church’s intercession”.
Consequently, in order to conform with the nature of sacramentals, when a blessing is invoked on particular human relationships, in addition to the right intention of those who participate, it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. Therefore, only those realities which are in themselves ordered to serve those ends are congruent with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church.
For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex. The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.
Furthermore, since blessings on persons are in relationship with the sacraments, the blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit. This is because they would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing invoked on the man and woman united in the sacrament of Matrimony, while in fact “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”.
The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not therefore, and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them.
The Christian community and its Pastors are called to welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations, and will know how to find the most appropriate ways, consistent with Church teaching, to proclaim to them the Gospel in its fullness. At the same time, they should recognize the genuine nearness of the Church – which prays for them, accompanies them and shares their journey of Christian faith – and receive the teachings with sincere openness.
The answer to the proposed dubium does not preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching. Rather, it declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions as such. In this case, in fact, the blessing would manifest not the intention to entrust such individual persons to the protection and help of God, in the sense mentioned above, but to approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.
At the same time, the Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him “we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit”. But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact “takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are”.
For the above mentioned reasons, the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex in the sense intended above.
The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Secretary of this Congregation, was informed and gave his assent to the publication of the above-mentioned Responsum ad dubium, with the annexed Explanatory Note.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the 22nd of February 2021, Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle.
Luis F. Card. Ladaria, S.I.
✠ Giacomo Morandi
Archbishop tit. of Cerveteri
 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, 250.
 SYNOD OF BISHOPS, Final Document of the XV Ordinary General Assembly, 150.
 SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, 60.
 RITUALE ROMANUM ex Decreto Sacrosancti Oecumenici Concilii Vaticani II instauratum auctoritate Ioannis Pauli PP. Il promulgatum, De bendictionibus, Praenotanda Generalia, n.9.
 Ibidem, n. 10.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2357.
 In fact, the nuptial blessing refers back to the creation account, in which God’s blessing on man and woman is related to their fruitful union (cf. Gen 1:28) and their complementarity (cf. Gen 2:18-24).
 FRANCIS, Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetitia, 251.
 Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter Homosexualitatis problema On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 15.
 De benedictionibus in fact presents an extended list of situations for which to invoke the blessing of the Lord.
 CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Letter Homosexualitatis problema On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 7.
 FRANCIS, General Audience of December 2, 2020, Catechesis on Prayer, the blessing.