My RedState colleague Streiff wrote about the statement earlier today from the Vatican that the Catholic Church cannot “bless” civil unions between homosexuals. Streiff noted that, contrary to what is being suggested in places like the Washington Post, this is not a break with prior Church doctrine, but is actually a continuation and extension of what has always been Church doctrine on the subject.
The Vatican’s formal statement today came from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, in response to a question posed by Bishops in the German church, as to whether the Catholic Church could “bless” same-sex unions in the same manner it provides a blessing for marriages between a man and a woman. The answer to the question was “negative” because such “homosexual unions” are not consistent with “God’s plan for marriage and family.”
Consequently, in 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 to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. Therefore, only those realities which are in themselves ordered to serve those ends are congruent with the essence of the blessing imparted by the Church.
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 presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.
Furthermore, since blessings on persons are in relationship with the sacraments, the blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit. This is because they would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing invoked on the man and woman united in the sacrament of Matrimony, while in fact “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”.
The statement is a huge setback for efforts within the Catholic faith to change church doctrine on the issue of homosexuality and the place of the “LBGTQ” community within the church.
“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,” he said in a statement.
The statement undercuts — if not completely does away with — the idea that there is a recognition of the “holiness of love” in a committed homosexual relationship and that such love is “divinely inspired”. The Statement makes clear that the opposite is true according to Church doctrine which has not changed.
The Statement distinguishes between the sinful man and the sins of the sinful man, attempting to “thread the needle” consistent with Pope Francis’ prior public statements on homosexuality and civil unions. Last October a documentary titled “Francesco” about the life of Pope Francis included comments made by him as follows:
“Homosexual people have a right to be in a family,” he said in the film, which premiered on Wednesday.
“They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.
“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”
The film noted that as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis had always opposed laws promoting gay marriage, which was legalized in Argentina in 2010. But he also advocated for recognition in the law of “civil unions” so as to provide legal protections for the partners in such unions. His history in this regard, and his willingness to lend vocal support to various measures supported by the more liberal wing of the Church around the world, created hope among groups supporting a revision of Church doctrine that recognized homosexuality as a “sin.”
Today’s statement ends that debate by stating that homosexuals are welcomed into and should be embraced by the Church, but only in so far as they:
… manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching…. [T]he blessing would … approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.
At the same time, the Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him “we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit”. But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact “takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are”.
I will leave the issues of Church Doctrine, and how this Statement develops or extends Church Doctrine on homosexuality, to others who are more versed in the subject matter.
But on a legal basis, this Statement raises significant issues for future litigation with respect to the protections afforded by religious liberty under the First Amendment’s “Free Exercise” clause. The compelled participation in gay marriage or civil union ceremonies by bakers, photographers, wedding planners, etc., under threat of state-initiated litigation for civil rights violations — as has happened in Colorado and other states — will come under further scrutiny now.
Those who object on religious liberty grounds can point to this Statement of Church doctrine to support their refusal to be compelled to participate in and celebrate “a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to be revealed by the plans of God.”