Bishops’ Statements Reveal Divisions Over Vatican’s Ban on Blessing Same-Gender Unions

Cardinal Sean O’Malley, left, and Cardinal Peter Turkson

With each passing hour it seems, news breaks about another church leader or Catholic group offering their thoughts about the Vatican’s responsum ad dubium earlier this week that banned blessings for same-gender unions. While much of the commentary has been condemnatory of the Vatican’s action, some ranking church leaders have come to its defense.

(For previous bishops’ reactions, see the bottom of this post.)

Speaking at a Georgetown University virtual event, two leading cardinals and close associates of Pope Francis defended the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s response, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

“Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the only American on the pope’s advisory Council of Cardinals, said that while Francis wants to be close to people in their everyday challenges, ‘the church has a very clear teaching about marriage that needs to be proclaimed.’

“Cardinal Peter Turkson, who leads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, concurred. He said that although the pope has ‘concern and solicitude’ for the needs of LGBT people, the church is also ‘a path to salvation.’ . . .

“Using an Italian word for closeness, O’Malley said that throughout his papacy Francis had shown ‘a desire for what he calls vicinanza — to be close to people in the reality and the challenges of their lives, no matter what that may be.’

“The Holy Father tries to be very sensitive and pastoral in his outreach to people and to show his concern about individuals and, at the same time, his commitment to fidelity to what the church’s teaching is about the sacrament of marriage,’ said the cardinal.”

Turkson raised the anecdote about an English same-gender couple who apparently told him, “out of respect for the sacrament, and what marriage is as a sacrament, they decided not to ask for marriage.”

Crux reported that at a Vatican press conference, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, commented:

“’I think that it’s very important that we all understand that the pastoral life of the Church is open to all people. . .The distinction I made between civil and sacramental marriage is very important when you speak about blessing of marriages. . .Blessing is a sacramental and it’s related to the sacrament of marriage. Therefore, it can be difficult to understand, but I insist and would very much like everybody to understand that we are open to accompanying all people.'”

In France, Bishop Bruno Feillet, head of the French Episcopal Conference, offered a mixed statement. He said the question of blessings was on the conference’s last agenda. La Croix International reported further:

“‘Within the national office, people involved in supporting those concerned were moved and distressed by this note,” said the 61-year-old moral theologian and auxiliary bishop of Reims.

“He said it was unfortunate that many in the media immediately highlighted connection between ‘homosexuality’ and ‘sin’, he pointed out that homosexuals ‘as individuals, can, of course, always be the object of blessings’.

“‘It is the same-sex relationship that cannot be the object of the blessing, because to bless it is to encourage its continuation,’ Bishop Feillet said.

“But claimed that ‘not all are concerned’ with the issue.’ Between a quarter and a third of the dioceses in France currently have people or pastoral services dedicated to accompanying homosexuals,’ he said.”

Joining episcopal critics of the Vatican’s decision is Bishop Hermann Glettler of Innsbruck, Austria. Kathpress reported:

“‘The rejection of official blessing ceremonies for same-sex relationships is not a judgment about homosexual people, which the church must now try even more than before. . .[The decision is] a disappointment for all who have hoped for a clearer sign of acceptance of homosexual couples,’ admitted the bishop responsible for marriage and family in the [Austrian] bishops’ conference. All the more the church has to offer homosexual people a spiritual home in the church and strengthen everything that is good in their relationships. ‘There is still a lot to learn in this regard,’ because ‘the history of superficial and hateful convictions will continue to have an effect for a long time.’

“‘Same-sex relationships can be based on loyalty and mutual devotion,” said Bishop Glettler. In this respect, these relationships would contribute to the personal happiness of those affected and to living together in our society. . .

“‘As a church, we want to offer all gay and lesbian people and people who are insecure about their sexuality a welcome and a spiritual home in the church – and not only when they are celibate.’ It will be a long pastoral path that ‘requires even more openness, a willingness to get to know each other and to approach one another’.”

In the United States, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported:

“The church teaches that same-sex activity is wrong, but that should not suggest that the individuals are bad, [Wester] said.

“‘Human sexuality is a gift from God, and it’s also something that’s very complex and mysterious,’ Wester said. Morality is subjective, he said, and only God and the individual involved really know if an act is a sin.

“Asked if he agreed with the letter, Wester said: ‘It’s too complicated a point to respond to that, I’m afraid. The letter is multifaceted.'”

In that same report, one of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe’s priests, Fr. Vincent Paul Chávez, said he would like to bless same-gender couples, but would only do so if approved by the hierarchy.

In Switzerland, Bishop Markus Büchel of St. Gallen spoke honestly about the church’s relationship to blessings. La Croix International reported:

“The mission of the Church is to bestow this blessing from God and to promise it to the people — not by its own means, but as an intermediary. . .Especially at a time when deeply hidden sins committed […] in the name of the Church are being brought to light, it is comforting to know that God’s blessings are for all.”

The Diocese’s director of pastoral services, Franz Kreissl, issued an additional statement, saying it was “inadequate and wrong” to control “who can or cannot receive God’s blessing.”

In Australia, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australia Bishops’ Conference, told The Tablet:

“It’s just not enough to say ‘we can’t, we can’t’. . .That may be important, but it’s only one word in a much, much longer and more complex conversation. In that sense, what the CDF has said in that statement isn’t by any means causa finita est, the end of the conversation. I think it should give greater impetus to another kind of conversation about inclusion.”

The Tablet’s report also included more information about how involved Pope Francis was in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s responsum:

“Instead, on this occasion, without consulting the members of the congregation [bishops], a small group of officials in the Holy Office drafted a ruling and then presented it to Pope Francis for sign-off in the lead up to his visit to Iraq. Given that processes are as important as outcomes, what happened here puts the CDF’s opaque ways of working under the spotlight, and suggests they have yet to get the memo on synodality. . .

“Given these factors, the CDF’s ruling looks like more of an ecclesial-political manoeuvre than an attempt to help the Church discern a response to contemporary questions of sexuality in a context that is radically different to the one just a few decades ago.”

The Tablet‘s report from Christopher Lamb suggests the responsum may have been rushed in response to Germany’s Synodal Way, which has prompted lively discussion about same-gender blessings in that country, and to documentary footage released last October in which Pope Francis re-affirmed his support for civil unions for same-gender couples. (For additional commentary on this topic, see America’s report here.)

To sign a statement opposing the Vatican’s ban, click here.

For Bondings 2.0’s ongoing coverage about Vatican’s ban on blessing same-gender unions and responses to it, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 19, 2021

Previous Reports on Bishops’ Responses

March 18, 2021: “Bishop Is ‘Ashamed’ of Church, Apologizes for Vatican’s Ban on Same-Gender Blessings

March 18, 2021: “Nearly 1,000 Pastoral Ministers in Germany Commit to Blessing Same-Gender Couples

March 17, 2021: “Cardinal Cupich, Elton John, and LGBTQ Catholics Comment on Vatican’s Blessings Ban

March 16, 2021: “Top German Bishop “Not Happy” with Vatican Ban on Blessing Same-Gender Couples

Other Resources

For a listing of Catholic leaders who have spoken positively about same-gender relationships and unions, click here.

For information about a Catholic blessing for a same-gender couple, click here.

For more information on how to be welcoming to married same-gender couples, click here.


6 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    The Vatican could have said that wanton,licentious behavior was unfulfilling and spiritually unhealthy, but it did not. Instead, it excluded a specific group: same sex couples in committed relationships. It singled them out as unworthy of Church recognition. It refused to offer the minimal act, viz. blessing humans . There is the not so subtle condemnation and marginalization we are used to from pre Francis. Who is helped by the Vatican’s words ? Borrowing the Hippocratic oath of physicians, “First, Do no harm. “

  2. Lindsey Pembrooke
    Lindsey Pembrooke says:

    If you’ve no place in the Church for Gay or Transgender people, why should we care? The Church is at a watershed moment. It needs to either place Christ first and welcome people as God has made them, unconditionally. Or it needs to be honest that there will never be a place for us and at best they are trying to pander to the faithful that have gay or trans family members and will leave the Church if they aren’t seen to go through the motions of pretending to care.

    In the meantime, as a transgender person, we continue to be erased by our Church but know anytime a gay person is slammed like they just were, that it is implied for us that it goes double. God made me as I am, and I consider it a blessing. Just because my Church refuses to talk about me in those terms does not make it untrue.
    “Using an Italian word for closeness, O’Malley said that throughout his papacy Francis had shown ‘a desire for what he calls vicinanza — to be close to people in the reality and the challenges of their lives, no matter what that may be.’

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    And now we are told the Pope quickly signed a document while packing his suitcases. Really then now that he is back he should read it again and pull it or leave it be. If he can’t dis-avow it, he support it. Hate can either be condemned or welcomed. Each day it is not swept out, the firmer it remains as a stain.
    Peace and health.

  4. Richard Boyle
    Richard Boyle says:

    What I get from O’Malley’s and Turkson’s “distillation” of the pastoral approach and the theological/moral stance of the Church is simply this: “Dear LGBTQ people, we love you and want to be close to you, but, unfortunately, you’re going to Hell…”

    I can clearly see why lots of people, ordinary, thinking, sensitive, Catholics, are walking away from the Church.

  5. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    If pet rats, cars, crops and houses can be blessed, then certainly loving, same sex couples can be blessed.


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