As Bondings 2.0 reported reported, on 15th the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) unconditionally forbade Catholic blessings of same-sex couples. Attempting to preempt all objections, it used a two-pronged argument based in both sacramental and moral theology: same-sex blessings are not “even remotely analogous” to the sacrament of marriage, and same-gender sexual relations are not “objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.”
And in case those two claims were not convincing, it further declared that “the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex” even if it wants to do so—language that echoes Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which similarly and strangely proclaimed that the Church itself has “no authority whatsoever” to ordain women. That is, blessing same-sex unions is bad sacramental theology, morally reprehensible, and not within the Church’s power, end of story. No wonder lifelong Catholics like Jobert Abueva are finally throwing in the towel.
To be sure, I judge no LGBTQ+ person for whom this document is the last straw; our spiritual and mental health are precious. But to those who have an ounce of energy to remain, this moment can be a sign of hope. What is at stake in the Vatican’s responsum is ecclesiology, or the theological description of the Church. Using an old-fashioned ecclesiology, the CDF envisions the Church like a corporation with the pope as the CEO. It treats the charism of theological authority something like champagne flowing down a pyramid from the single glass at the top to the dozens below. The Pope receives theological truth from the Holy Spirit in his role as Vicar of Christ and mediates it to the CDF, which in turn dispenses it to us. Our role is merely to accept it passively, trusting that even what appears difficult or even wrong to us will eventually be a blessing.
But this is not the only official Catholic ecclesiology. In 2014, the In 2014, the International Theological Commission (ITC) drew on Vatican Council II’s image of the Church as the people of God to articulate the Council’s bottom-up ecclesiology and vision of theological authority. Ordinary faithful people—not just popes and appointed officials in Vatican departments and dicasteries—can and do authoritatively discern the truth of the Gospel. All the baptized “participate in the prophetic office of Jesus Christ.” The Holy Spirit grants them the sensus fidei, the “instinct for the truth of the Gospel, which enables them to recognise and endorse authentic Christian doctrine and practice, and to reject what is false.” Not only that, but large numbers of faithful, prayerful people arriving at the same insight constitute the sensus fidelium, or the “Church’s own instinct of faith.”
To put it plainly: the Church is a community of persons in the Holy Spirit, who individually and collectively inspires them with theological insights, and these conclusions are truly the Church’s theology.
As the ITC hastens to add, this does not mean that truth is determined by democratic vote or that the Church’s theology ought to respond to the whim of the week. Vibrant participation in the life of the Church, grateful reflection on scripture and tradition, and openness to reason are essential. “Attentiveness to the magisterium” and “willingness to listen to the pastors of the Church,” but not passive obedience, are also markers of fidelity. So, too, is the holy humility that yields spiritual freedom and a desire to build up the whole Church, without partisanship:
“To build the Church means seeking to discover and develop one’s own gifts and helping others to discover and develop their charisms, too, correcting their failures, and accepting correction oneself, in a spirit of Christian charity, working with others and praying with them, sharing their joys and sorrows (cf. 1Cor 12:12, 26).”
Looking over the list of Catholic individuals and organizations who have expressed support for same-sex couples and LGBTQ+ people in general not just in recent days but over the past decade, I see people of prayer and hope, humility and love, willing to listen to their leaders yet unwilling to ignore the Spirit: true marks of the Church. The spirit of acceptance and love that is flowing with increasing strength looks more and more to be the Spirit of the Church.
The CDF’s responsum comes off as a chilling, inhospitable document that ignores Vatican Council II’s expansive ecclesiology and alienates Catholics and non-Catholics alike, demonstrating the destructiveness of rigid, top-down, bureaucratic vision of Church. Still, the torrent of uplifting rejoinders reveals the Holy Spirit in action, loving and welcoming. They inspire us to open our eyes to the vibrant community of faith that has bubbled up for years, and is now bubbling over, with prayerful conviction that same-sex partnerships and even same-sex marriages can be as good and holy as heterosexual marriages. This Church, the community of faith in the Holy Spirit, is on its way to endorsing acceptance, love, and blessing not just for same-sex couples but for all LGBTQ+ persons. May it be so!
—Cristina Traina, Fordham University, March 20, 2021
For all the previous posts concerning the Vatican’s ban on blessing same-gender couples, click here.
To sign a statement opposing the Vatican’s ban, click here.