On Monday, the Vatican said that the Roman Catholic Church would never be able to bless same-sex marriages, describing such unions as “sinful.”
In a lengthy note, the Vatican explained its decision, alleging that homosexuality is a “choice” and that same-sex unions “cannot be recognized as objectively ordered” to God’s plans.
“[I]n 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,” the Vatican wrote in its statement.
“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 Vatican said that stating the “unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex” wasn’t discrimination, but “a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them.”
The statement also says that gays and lesbians, as individuals, may receive a blessing if they live according to Church teaching — in other words, if they remain celibate.
But blessing same-sex unions would send a message that the church approves of a “choice and a way of life” that is condemned in Scripture, reports CNN.
In a commentary provided with the Monday statement, the Vatican insisted that “the negative judgment on the blessing of unions of persons of the same sex does not imply a judgment on persons.”
The Vatican’s announcement is undoubtedly going to be seen as a setback by LGBTQ Catholics who had hoped that, under Pope Francis — who is on the more liberal side of the church hierarchy — the church would soften its stance towards homosexuality.
Already, the church has butted heads with secular governments that have legalized same-sex marriage and other socially conservative causes, which have led some rank-and-file Catholics — particularly those belonging to younger generations – to distance themselves from the church due to disagreements over doctrine.
Last year, it appeared that Francis — whose history with regard to LGBTQ issues has been mixed — had made comments supporting civil union laws for same-sex couples as part of an interview he gave as part of a documentary. But the Vatican pushed back against the remarks, arguing they had been taken out of context.
New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBTQ Catholic organization, called the Vatican’s statement about blessing same-sex unions “not surprising, but still disappointing.”
“Though Rome has now spoken on this issue, what the Vatican doesn’t realize is that the Catholic faithful are not satisfied with the answer that they gave,” Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement.
“Catholic people recognize the holiness of the love between committed same-sex couples and recognize this love as divinely inspired and divinely supported and thus meets the standard to be blessed,” DeBernardo continued. “They recognize that God has already blessed these unions, and that a ritual is simply a recognition of God’s blessing.”
DeBernardo noted that a number of Catholic bishops have previously raised the issue, and individual parish priests are already celebrating blessings of same-sex unions.
As with other social issues, even if the priesthood doesn’t condone same-sex unions, rank-and-file Catholics are likely to express their support of such unions in other ways outside of the church, he said.
For instance, people could invite gay and lesbian couples to participate in marriage preparation programs, or open bereavement support groups to LGBTQ people whose spouses have died.
“Catholics will continue to find creative ways to bless the couples they love and support. If priests and pastoral ministers no longer feel they can perform such a blessing, the Catholic laity will step in and perform their own rituals, gestures, and words of support,” he said. “The fact that this discussion is well underway ensures that it will continue. The toothpaste is out of the tube and it can’t be put back inside.
“The Vatican issued a dubium in 1995 that the ordination of women was not allowed and that no discussion of it could happen. That strategy did not work, and the discussion of ordaining women in the Catholic Church is as alive as ever,” DeBernardo added. “In 1968, the Vatican affirmed its opposition to artificial birth control. Today, according to the U.S. bishops’ own statistics, 96% of Catholic couples ignore this teaching.
“People think that church teaching evolves at the top and filters down. That is not how it works. The sense of the faithful is important and how the faithful receive a teaching affects the validity of such teaching,” DeBernardo concluded. “The Catholic faithful have already expressed their support of same-sex couples, and they will continue to do so.”
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