Controversy over blessing for same-sex couples, clerics clarify Pope’s position

Amid the controversy over Pope Francis’ statement on the blessing for same-sex couples, Gbenga Oloniniran writes on the explanations given by some Catholic priests

The Vatican on Monday approved a landmark ruling to allow Roman Catholic priests to administer blessing to same-sex couples as long as it was not part of regular Church rituals or liturgies, nor given in contexts related to civil unions or weddings.

Aljazeera reported that a document from the Vatican’s doctrinal office approved by Pope Francis on Monday said such blessings would not legitimise irregular situations but be a sign that God welcomed all.

The document backed “the possibility of blessing for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex” but “this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them.”

It said priests should decide on a case-by-case basis and “should not prevent or prohibit the Church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing”.

The document elaborates on a letter Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published in October. In that preliminary response, Francis suggested such blessing could be offered under some circumstances if it didn’t confuse the ritual with the sacrament of marriage.

The new document, according to Aljazeera, repeats that rationale and elaborates on it, reaffirming that marriage is a lifelong sacrament between a man and a woman. It stresses that blessing should not be conferred at the same time as a civil union, using set rituals or even with the clothing and gestures that belong in a wedding.

Emphasising that the Church requires a pastoral approach towards people in irregular situations – including same-sex relationships – Cardinal Blase Cupich says the Archdiocese of Chicago welcomes the ‘Declaration Fiducia supplicans’ “which will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God.”

According to VATICAN NEWS, at the heart of the declaration, says Cardinal Cupich in a statement on the Archdiocesan website, “is a call for pastors to take a pastoral approach to being available to people” who recognise the need for God’s help and presence in their lives, without claiming a legitimation of their particular status.

“As such, the declaration is a step forward,” the Cardinal explains, adding that it is in keeping both with Pope Francis’ “desire to accompany people pastorally” and with “Jesus’ desire to be present to all people who desire grace and support.”

Also reacting, the spokesperson for the Abuja Archdiocese, Fr. Patrick Alumuku, in an interview with The PUNCH on Tuesday, put the issue in perspective. He maintained that the Pope’s position should not be misinterpreted to mean sacrament.

Alumuku said, “My position is the position of the Catholic church. I think we need to put this issue in perspective because what has happened up till now is that no one has been allowed to deal with people who are lesbian until now (in the church). What the Pope is saying is that this discrimination is not necessary – that is basically what he’s saying, and that there is a need to help these people understand that they are children of God. In the process, they could be converted, and they can change their position.”

“What I see in the media is as if there is a change in the law of marriage in the church.”

He said this was not the case, as he added that anyone could ask for a blessing. He says blessing a man who meets you on the road, for instance, does not mean you give him a sacrament, as he notes anyone could say to the priest to bless him, “literally saying ‘pray for me’. That is different from the sacramental stage which the sacrament of matrimony gives to people. So these people are not being given the sacrament of matrimony. They’re not being made to feel or to believe that they are wedded. All the pope is saying is that attention be given to all persons whether they are gay or not,” he said in the telephone interview.

He added, “At some point, black people were segregated. So at a point, they said black people could be exempted as Christians – some were scandalised by it because, at some point, people held that black people did not even have a soul. And so, at some point, they just discovered that these people had a soul. So breaking this barrier is strange for some people and difficult for people to understand, but this is exactly the barrier being broken here.”

A Knight of St John, Iheanyi Ochor, who spoke with our correspondent from Owerri, Imo State, however, disagreed with blessing for same-sex couples.

Ochor, who is also a lawyer, noted “It is as controversial as it has been.”

Speaking on Tuesday, he said, “Ninety-five percent of us do not accept that it should be; It doesn’t matter how they want to explain it to us, if you want to bless the sinner and condemn the sin, to me, it’s not acceptable, but the best he (the pope) could have done in this circumstance is to keep quiet about the whole thing. Many of us don’t think it is the best thing to have been done now.”

A popular cleric on Facebook, Fr Kelvin Ugwu, said if he were to summarise the document ‘Fiducia Supplicans’, and the teaching from Pope Francis on the blessing of same-sex couples, “The document still echoed the fact that in the Catholic Church, marriage is still between a man and a woman and nothing changes this.”

He said, “Blessing same-sex couples is not in any way a form of recognising their union as a marriage. Anyone can ask for a blessing, and asking for a blessing can be a sign of humility, trust in God, and expression of the desire to do better. The central message of the document is hinged on the church’s desire to welcome everyone with God’s love and mercy with the hope of repentance.”

Fr. Ugwu, who identified himself as a Nigerian Catholic priest on a mission in The Gambia, further said on his verified Facebook page on Tuesday, “But, If I am to say what is on my mind, I will say that this whole thing is just unnecessary. The document did not even give a clear-cut direction on how the blessing should be. Usually in the Catholic church, there are rituals for every blessing, even the blessing of pets. But the church refused to provide a ritual and even stipulated that no ritual should be provided by priests for this all talked about ‘blessings of same-sex couples.’ It says a lot. Also, I find it totally wrong to refer to the people in question as “same-sex couples”. There is nothing like a same-sex couple. We should not even use the term ‘couple’ to address them in the first place.”

“All these push (es), in whichever angle they are coming from, (are) not coming with a good intention. There are emphases that should be made. That emphasis is that man and man cannot be a couple, and woman and woman cannot be a couple. Homosexual acts should be condemned emphatically while respecting the human person.”

He urged people to read the original document slowly to see that “you ought to be examining yourself and repenting, instead of celebrating sin.”

On his part, a Nigerian Catholic priest identified as Father Ugochukwu Ugwoke on X said the church did not condemn same-sex couples even though same-sex marriages were “sinful.”

“All the laws and regulations in the Catholic Church may be divided into three kinds: Those that the Church has no power to change, never has changed and never will change; Those that (the church) has the authority to change, but most probably never will change; Those that (the church) can change, has changed and may change again according to the circumstances of a given period of time,” he wrote on X formerly Twitter via @FrUgochukwu.

According to him, under the first type of laws, there are two kinds of laws that the Catholic Church has no authority to change or tamper with in any way, saying “they are natural moral laws and positive divine laws.”

“A good example of natural moral laws is the Church’s teaching regarding marriage as a union between a man and a woman. As a natural moral law, this teaching is universal, unchanging, and unchangeable. Over such laws, the Catholic Church headed by the Pope, has no authority other than that of manifesting how clearly they stand out in human nature and reiterating them to the end of time.

“So, if you think that blessing of same-sex couples will lead to the eventual endorsement and approval of same-sex marriage by the Catholic Church, I want to tell you that such will never happen without the Church running into the risks of schism. Same-sex marriages are sinful and can never be approved. But then, while the Church rejects same-sex union and considers it disordered, she does not condemn same-sex couples.”

(Punch)

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