The incoming head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office has expressed an openness to blessings for queer couples, though reaffirmed such blessings should not be confused with the heteronormative understanding of marriage promoted by church leaders.
Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, who last week was named prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, answered a question about such blessings during an interview with InfoVaticana. Asked whether he agreed with the DDF’s 2021 document banning same-gender blessings, Fernández replied (via Google Translate):
“Look, just as I am firmly against abortion (and I challenge you to find someone in Latin America who has written more articles against abortion than I have), I also understand that ‘marriage’ in the strict sense is only one thing: the stable union of two beings as different as male and female, who in that difference are capable of generating new life. There is nothing that can be compared to that and using that name to express something else is not good or correct. At the same time, I believe that gestures or actions that may express something different should be avoided. That is why I think that the greatest care must be taken is to avoid rites or blessings that could feed this confusion. Now, if a blessing is given in such a way that it does not cause that confusion, it will have to be analyzed and confirmed. As you will see, there is a point at which a properly theological discussion is left and one passes to a question that is more prudential or disciplinary.”
That reply followed an earlier question about how the Fernández understood Germany’s Synodal Way, which earlier this year passed resolutions calling for LGBTQ+ blessings in the church and a greater recognition of transgender and intersex people. He said that as archbishop in La Plata, Argentina, where he currently is, his focus had been on preaching the Gospel and helping people develop spiritually, not church disputes. He continued:
“Germans always attract attention, and in my style as an Archbishop that concern for ordaining women or the like has not been present. Obviously now it is up to me to update myself on the matter, listen, talk, consult. For now, I have to tell you that I don’t think there isn’t something good in this German ‘movement’. . .This historical question will leave us with something of good although it may be necessary to polish things, refine them, mature them.”
Finally, Fernández said that church teaching can evolve because, while doctrine itself is from God and unchanging, “our understanding of that and that [it has] in fact changed and will continue to change. That is why in Dei Verbum it is said, for example, that the work of exegetes can mature the opinion of the Church.”
When naming Fernández to the DDF last week, Pope Francis signaled his desire for a new approach at the dicastery by criticizing its “immoral methods” of the past, likely alluding, in part, to the investigations and suppressions targeting LGBTQ-positive theologians and pastoral workers. Fernández has a decades-long relationship with the pope, dating back to when he was Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Argentina. Since then, Fernández is believed to be a key figure behind several of the pope’s writings, including Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia.
News of the appointment, including the pope’s letter, elicited hope from many liberal-minded church observers. Christopher Lamb of The Tablet called the appointment an “ecclesial earthquake.” The new Info Vaticana interview with Archbishop Fernández seems to signal that new approach is already being lived out. The archbishop clearly hews to present church teaching on marriage, but, even in a qualified form, his openness to consider blessing queer couples is remarkable. At the very least, his words signal that the doctrinal office once known for oppressive behavior now would like to engage synodally.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, July 6, 2023