On March 15, the Vatican’s head doctrinal office issued a response to the question, “does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) answered that question in the “negative.”
The doctrinal office of the CDF “takes care of the matters that relate to the promotion of the doctrine of the faith and morals,” and is currently headed by Cardinal Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer, S.I., the CDF’s prefect.
In an explanatory note that was included in its response, which was signed by Cardinal Ladaria and approved by Pope Francis, the CDF said that some within the Catholic Church are advancing plans for the blessing of same-sex unions.
The Church believes that blessings, performed by priests, belong to the category of the “sacramentals.” According to the Catholic Church, these sacramentals are means by which the Church “calls us to praise God, encourages us to implore his protection, and exhorts us to seek his mercy by our holiness of life.”
The CDF explained:
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 explanatory note said that homosexual relationships cannot be included in God’s plan for marriage, adding:
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.”
However, the explanatory note also said that even though the Church cannot bless homosexual unions, “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.”
The response issued by the CDF comes at a time when several German Catholic bishops have proposed blessing same-sex unions. In fact, the CDF’s note that “some ecclesial contexts” are proposing such blessings seems to be directed at heterodox German bishops.
According to The Pillar, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, Germany recently reiterated his support for blessing same-sex unions, and Bishop Georg Bätzing “has also called repeatedly for changes to the Church’s teaching on human sexuality.”
The German Bishops’ Conference is currently in the midst of a three-year, four-part synod, named the Synodal Way, in which the bishops are engaging in a conversation regarding clerical celibacy, the ordination of women to the priesthood and Catholic teaching on sexual morality.
There is a decent amount of concern among conservative Catholics that the Synodal Way could depart in significant ways from traditional Catholic teaching on homosexuality.
However, it is the pope who has the final say about the Church’s teachings after the conclusions of a synod. According to the Catholic Church’s code of canon law, synods cannot resolve issues “unless in certain cases the Roman Pontiff… ratifies the decisions of the synod.”
On matters of homosexuality, the Church is clear.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
Important to note is that in the CDF’s recent response, the Vatican did not say what some in the media claimed. CNN alleged on Twitter that the Vatican called homosexuality a “sin.”
However, the catechism distinguishes between the person who has homosexual tendencies, and the homosexual act.
“This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for [homosexual persons] a trial,” it states. “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition… Homosexual persons are called to chastity.”
For our part, Focus on the Family continues to affirm that marriage is between one man and one woman.
Finally, there is a greater lesson here which applies to all of us. Just like the distinction between those who have homosexual tendencies and the homosexual act, every human being struggles to navigate the tension between what we desire with our passions, and what we know to be right, which everyone can understand through right reason, also illuminated by Scripture and faith.
No one is exempt from this inner battle.
In Romans 7:24, regarding the struggle with sin, the Apostle Paul asks, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Answering his own question in the next verse, he replies, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
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