Vatican’s ethical contortions to avoid same-sex blessings ‘pitiful’

Rite & Reason: Much broader Catholic community has more common sense

Beware the Ides of March, the day Julius Caesar went to his reward in 44 BC. March 15th was also the day the responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to a dubium [doubt] regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex was unleashed last week. In the time it took Brutus to plunge his sword, the statement has been rejected widely.

The responsum had the explicit approval of Pope Francis, of whom many hoped for better. Answering a "doubt" only the congregation had about whether the institutional Roman Catholic Church could bless same-sex partnerships, the response was a clear, clipped "negative".

Some German bishops, among others, have talked about such blessing ceremonies. Marriage was off the table, but they knew that Catholics want some acknowledgement of the goodness of same-sex love and will go elsewhere if they cannot get it at home. Georg Bätzing, president of the bishops' conference in Germany, understated that there are "no easy answers" in this document that reflects current official teaching. It does not reflect current practice.

Take centuries

In Catholicism, practice always comes first. Then comes a heavy handed condemnation. Eventually, documents trickle out that confirm what is already the case. This can take centuries, but it is the usual order of things. This little theological tidbit might actually foreshadow something.

Some Catholics already bless same-sex unions. Stories abound of good Fr So-and-So who blessed Bob and Bill, Olivia y Cristina, Jacques et Georges. Many priests remain too timid to give blessings themselves, but lay people, indeed whole communities, gather to affirm the goodness of couples who love.

Some of those celebrations are actually weddings, the sacrament of Matrimony. This is alluded to with trepidation in the document lest same-sex blessing ceremonies “constitute a certain imitation or analogue to the nuptial blessing.” They do. Committed love is committed love.

The Vatican statement is focused narrowly on blessing ceremonies, what it categorises as "a sacramental", not a sacrament.

Sacramentals point to the sacrament. If a same-sex union were to be blessed – that is, prayed for and with – it might occur to the people blessed that they were somehow like heterosexual people who marry. They might even get the notion that they could marry.

The Vatican is foreclosing that option by stopping the sacramental blessing ahead of the sacrament of marriage. Alas, it is too late.

It is a short step from heterosexual marriage to same-sex marriage in sacramental terms

Earth to Rome: lots of communities are already celebrating both same-sex blessings and same-sex weddings, calling them Catholic marriages, naming them as sacraments because they are.

In contemporary Catholic theology, a sacrament is an occasion when a community lifts an everyday human experience to public expression because it is holy. For example, a baby does not become Christian through the sacrament of Baptism. The ceremony highlights the fact that the newly baptised is already part of a Christian community.

Magic words spoken by a bishop do not a priest make. The ordinand’s demonstrated commitment to ministry is recognised and affirmed in ordination. The ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the people who make a covenant with one another, not the priest who is a witness along with the rest of the community.

It is a short step from heterosexual marriage to same-sex marriage in sacramental terms. The Vatican’s ethical contortions to avoid this are pitiful. The church can bless “individual persons with homosexual inclinations” who live celibately according to the church’s teachings.

But should such persons find love, happiness, companionship, energy to create family and spark community, much less consider their lives to be healthy, good, natural, holy, worthy of celebration and encouragement, the answer is “negative”.

Institutional church

Happily, the Roman Catholic institutional church is only a small and shrinking part of a much broader Catholic community that has more common sense and ethical savvy.

I bet there are some good gay people in the Vatican at work on this

On the strength of this document, Catholics, including some priests and deacons, are jumping out of the woodwork to offer their pastoral services to bless same-sex couples.

Thanks to the media coverage of this “doubt” ministerial resources offered by Dignity USA, New Ways Ministry, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and others are getting broader attention. Some Christian denominations are offering to bless Catholics whether the Catholic church does or not.

I bet there are some good gay people in the Vatican at work on this. They know that when the institution publishes such an egregious statement that claims that God “does not and cannot bless sin”, in light of the many and varied same-sex couples who live exemplary lives, there is bound to be hearty rejection.

Like the ban on birth control before it, that which is not received lays the groundwork for future normative Catholic practice. So shall it be for Catholic same-sex unions, marriages, weddings, even divorces.

The Vatican doth doubt too much.