Nicht, nicht: Vatican responds to German plans for same-sex blessings

News: Vatican

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Monday issued a response to the question “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” That answer, signed by the congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Luis Laradria Ferrer, was “negative.”

The response was published March 15. The accompanying explanatory note from Cardinal Ladaria said the CDF’s answer had been formulated last month, and that Pope Francis had given his personal approval to its public publication.

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The statement from the CDF comes just days after several senior curial officials told The Pillar that there was growing concern in the Vatican that plans for same-sex blessings, proposed by the so-called Synodal Way undertaken by the German bishops’ conference, were already being brought into practice in some places.

The same officials, including those close to the CDF, told The Pillar last week that, while the CDF and other Vatican departments were ready to respond to German challenges to Church teaching and discipline, Cardinal Ladaria and other curial department heads were waiting for a clear lead from Pope Francis before confronting the German bishops.

The CDF’s answer to the dubium, a formal question seeking clarification on Church teaching, did not specifically mention the German synodal process, or identify who had originally submitted the question for response. However, one curial official close to the CDF told The Pillar on Monday that “the answer was to Germany.”

“The dubium was asked and answered, but to publish the response was necessary because of the public confusion being created by certain bishops in Germany, and the synodal process - which is not a synod at all.”

Pope Francis has warned in the past that the German synodal assembly, which began in 2019 and is scheduled to conclude next year, has no authority to change the discipline or doctrine of the Catholic Church.

The Congregation for Bishops has previously rejected the German synodal plan, its subject matter, structures, and proposed outcomes as “not ecclesiologically valid.”

Nevertheless, the German process has continued, developing recommendations on changes to the Church’s canon law and doctrinal teaching in several areas, including Church governance, sexual morality, priesthood, and women’s ordination. In November last year, Pope Francis has expressed his “dramatic concern” at the direction taken by the German bishops

Several German bishops have stated publicly their support for introducing same-sex blessings, despite their conflict with Catholic teaching and discipline. 

Last month, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz reiterated his support for the recognition of same-sex unions by the Church and defended his endorsement of a book of blessings and liturgical rites for same-sex unions.  

Bishop Georg Bätzing, the leader of the German bishops’ conference, has also called repeatedly for changes to the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, the ordination of women, and intercommunion.

The CDF response follows a similar intervention last year, in which German calls for the option of general intercommunion with Protestants were similarly rejected.

The response from Ladaria cited both the final document from the 2019 Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment and Pope Francis’ 2016 post synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia

Drawing on these documents, the CDF reiterated that “it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage,” which includes same-sex unions, as well as stable heterosexual unions which are not valid marriages, including merely civil unions contracted by Catholics after a divorce.

Ladaria reiterated that the Church rejects any form of “unjust discrimination” against homosexual people, and that those who have called for blessings of same-sex unions often do so out of “a sincere desire to welcome and accompany homosexual persons.” 

However, the response explained, blessings are sacramentals, which “are sacred signs that resemble the sacraments: they signify effects, particularly of a spiritual kind, which are obtained through the Church’s intercession.”

“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,” wrote Ladaria.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “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.”

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The Catechism draws a distinction between homosexual acts and the essential human dignity of “men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.”

“This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” according to the catechism. “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.” 

The CDF went on to explain that, although “positive elements” can be identified in some same-sex unions “which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated,” those apects “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 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.”