December 19, 2023

Did Pope Francis Just Okay Blessing Sinful Unions?

The Vatican released its official response to those questioning Rome’s apparent permission for the blessing of same-sex unions.

Did Pope Francis officially bless same-sex unions? A slew of recent mainstream media headlines such as that from The New York Times — “Pope Francis Allows Priests to Bless Same-Sex Couples” — would certainly give one that impression.

However, as the old expression goes, the devil is in the details.

The short answer to our headline question is “No.” But that answer comes with a massive caveat.

We have previously observed that Francis is a man to the left of his predecessor, Pope Benedict. As such, he has expressed social views that more often than not align with the concerns of the progressive Left rather than conservatives.

Thus, back in October, several conservative cardinals sent a letter, or Dubia, to Francis asking for clarification from the Vatican over several topics, including the issue of liberal priests giving blessings to same-sex couples. The pontiff’s initial response was less than clear.

At the time, Francis claimed to uphold the church’s teaching on marriage, which he called the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to conceiving children.” He added, “For this reason, the Church avoids all kinds of rites or sacramentals that could contradict this conviction and imply that it is recognizing as a marriage something that is not.”

If he had left it there, without addressing the elephant in the room — liberal priests blessing same-sex couples — it might have sufficed to tamp down the growing concern among many conservatives in the Catholic Church that Francis is poised to change the church’s long-held positions and teachings on not only marriage but human sexuality.

However, apparently wanting to not dissuade liberals, Francis added a rather unclear explanation that, far from rebuking, effectively appeared to give permission to priests to bless same-sex couples based on the concern for upholding charity, but done so with “pastoral prudence.” As we wrote at the time, “In other words, Francis will not rebuke priests who have been blessing same-sex unions, while at the same time claiming to uphold the church’s doctrine.”

Well, this week the Vatican published its Dicastery, Francis’s official response to the cardinals’ Dubia. In it, Francis once again reaffirms the church’s traditional teaching on marriage being between one man and one woman, and he includes the forbidding of blessing of “couples in irregular situations.”

But once again Francis did not offer a definitive rebuke against the blessing of same-sex couples. Rather, he said that the church continues to not recognize same-sex unions as marriages, but it does not forbid homosexual individuals from receiving generic nonjudgmental blessings from a priest. These generic blessings are described as “simple gestures that provide an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who ask for them.”

Furthermore, the Dicastery explains that priests who offer these blessings be “careful that they should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament.”

Of course, the glaring question that arises is the issue of homosexuality itself. To put it another way, is or is not Francis condemning homosexuality as a sin in need of repentance? The Dicastery does explain the reason for the freedom now to bless what in 2021 the Vatican refused to bless with the following explanation: God “cannot bless sin.” Furthermore, “There is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.”

As Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, an organization pushing for the acceptance of homosexuality within the Catholic Church, sees it: “The significance of this news cannot be overstated. It is one thing to formally approve same-gender blessings, which he had already pastorally permitted, but to say that people should not be subjected to ‘an exhaustive moral analysis’ to receive God’s love and mercy is an even more significant step.”

So, is Francis simply offering a general gospel call — come as you are — without communicating the presumption of a gospel-based, Spirit-empowered transformation of life away from sinful lifestyles, practices, and identities such as homosexuality?

Once again, the lack of clarity on the issue speaks volumes. Francis is apparently trying to avoid putting a hard line in the sand, and the result is more blurring of the lines than clarity.

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