The new head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office has said that he is opposed to same-sex blessings that feed “confusion” over the nature of marriage.
But he suggested that blessings that did not create such confusion should be “analyzed and confirmed.”
Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández made the remarks in an interview published July 5 by the Spanish Catholic website InfoVaticana.
The Argentine archbishop, who will take up the post of prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) in mid-September, was asked if he agreed with the dicastery’s 2021 declaration — published with specific papal approval — which said that “the Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex.”
Fernández replied: “Look, just as I am firmly against abortion (and I challenge you to find someone in Latin America who has written more articles than me against abortion), I also understand that ‘marriage’ in the strict sense is only one thing: that stable union of two beings as different as male and female are, who in that difference are capable of engendering new life.”
“There is nothing that can be compared to that and to use that name to express something else is neither good nor correct. At the same time, I believe that we must avoid gestures or actions that could express something different. That is why I think that the greatest care must be taken to avoid rites or blessings that could feed this confusion.”
“Now, if a blessing is given in such a way that it does not cause that confusion, it will have to be analyzed and confirmed. As you will see, there is a point at which we leave a properly theological discussion and move on to a question that is rather prudential or disciplinary.”
The doctrinal office’s 2021 ruling set off a firestorm in parts of the Catholic world, especially Germany, where priests and pastoral workers held a day of protest during which they conducted blessing ceremonies attended by same-sex couples.
The protest was criticized at the time by Bishop Georg Bätzing, the chairman of Germany’s bishops’ conference, who said that blessing services were “not suitable as an instrument for Church-political demonstrations or protest actions.”
Bätzing was one of the co-presidents of the “synodal way,” a three-year initiative bringing together Germany’s bishops and select lay people to discuss far-reaching changes to Catholic teaching and practice. Synodal way members overwhelmingly endorsed a resolution backing same-sex blessings at their final assembly in March.
The resolution called on bishops to “officially allow blessing ceremonies in their dioceses for couples who love each other but to whom sacramental marriage is not accessible or who do not see themselves at a point of entering into a sacramental marriage.”
It also appealed for the creation of a manual including same-sex blessings in consultation with the German Liturgical Institute.
The German bishops’ conference and the lay Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) — the bodies that jointly sponsored the synodal way — announced this week the formation of a working group dedicated to preparing the blessing manual.
The synodal way resolution on blessings was passed immediately after the Belgian Bishop Johan Bonny addressed the assembly. He explained how the country’s Flemish bishops came to approve a text allowing for a ritual blessing of same-sex couples in September 2022.
He noted that the final part of the document addressed the possibility of a blessing. The section, headed “Prayer for love and faithfulness,” suggested a structure for a ceremony taking place in the presence of a community, but underlined that “the difference should remain clear with what the Church understands by a sacramental marriage.”
“It’s a bit to help the Vatican, because it says it’s not the sacramental marriage, it’s something new,” Bonny said, according to a synodal way representative who simultaneously translated his March 10 speech from German to English.
Bonny stressed that the Flemish bishops did not offer a “manual,” but only a “short scheme or model” that would be reviewed “after one or two years.”
The Vatican has made no public comment on the Flemish bishops’ text. But Bonny said that curial officials were “really open-minded” when they received Belgium’s bishops on their ad limina visit in November 2022.
“Everybody said that this is an important matter and it’s your bishops’ conference, it’s your decision,” Bonny recalled.
He claimed that “the pope neither said yes nor no” to the Flemish bishops’ document, but only “It is your area of responsibility. It’s your domain.”
The doctrinal office’s 2021 declaration said that it was “not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage … as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”
It added: “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.”
The text said that “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 document said, citing Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia — a text that Archbishop Fernández is widely credited with helping to draft.
The text continued: “The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not therefore, and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them.”
The doctrinal dicastery noted that its declaration did not “preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”
“Rather, it declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions as such. In this case, in fact, the blessing would manifest not the intention to entrust such individual persons to the protection and help of God, in the sense mentioned above, but to approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God,” it said.
In the InfoVaticana interview, Fernández was also asked about Germany’s synodal way, which has prompted repeated interventions from Vatican departments, including the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Fernández explained that he had not followed the initiative closely due to his responsibilities as the leader of the Argentine Archdiocese of La Plata. He said that he needed “to catch up on the matter, to listen, to talk, to consult.”
“For now, I have to tell you that I don’t think there isn’t something good in this German ‘movement,’” he commented.
He said that Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, his predecessor as DDF prefect, once told him that he “wished there were some heretic who would force us to deepen our faith.”
“This historical question will leave us with something good, even though it may be necessary to polish things, to clarify them, to mature them,” Fernández said.