Back on September 30th, a few days before the new Dubia were released, Cardinal Tucho Fernández gave an interview to LifeSite News about Same-sex blessings which has now been published. But before we get to that, I want to go back to the 2021 document approved by the Holy Father which was meant to put to rest this dubium with the following clarity:
TO THE QUESTION PROPOSED:
Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?
The explanation goes into the fact that “Blessings belong to the category of the sacramentals” and “have been established as a kind of imitation of the sacraments”:
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 (emphasis added).
We can conclude from this that there is a close bond between the Sacraments and the sacramentals and that all adhere to the “designs of god inscribed in creation.” Thus the latter cannot contradict the former in manifesting the logos present in “God’s plan”:
The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them [the relationships] 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” (emphasis added).
Thus even though a sacramental is not a Sacrament, it nevertheless has a “certain imitation and analogue” to the Sacrament. The nature of any sexual relationship outside God’s plan for marriage completely alters the nature of that relationship so that a blessing can never be given to the relationship itself, even if it has some “positive element.”
The Necessary Distinctions
However, the document goes on to make these crucial distinctions:
The answer to the proposed dubium does 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 (emphasis added).
Thus we can draw the conclusion that these distinctions are necessary in any approved blessings in this context. The Church can only give a blessing to someone with same-sex attraction if and only if:
- The close bond is confirmed between the Sacraments and the sacramentals within God’s designs for creation
- The blessing be of an individual person, not a relationship
- The person manifests the desire to live chastely according to the “plan of God”
When two people are blessed together, the relationship or partnership is blessed along with the persons. This is why it can only be a blessing of one person. The emphasis on the “plan of God” as defined in this document, is specifically the design of God for human sexuality. In the context, it is not a “general will” to be a Christian, but rather to be a Christian in this specific way, as contrasted with self-identifying with the temptation and sin of sodomy. It would seem then, that the CDF is establishing these necessary distinctions which create the parameters of blessings in this area.
Pope Francis’s Initial Responsum
Let us next turn to the first reply of the Holy Father to the dubium raised by this.
The Church has a very clear conception of marriage: an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the begetting of children. It calls this union “marriage.” Other forms of union only realize it “in a partial and analogous way” (Amoris Laetitia, 292), and so they cannot be strictly called “marriage.”
The first thing to notice is that the Holy Father seems to depart from the CDF document which had said that “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.” He seems to start by implying that same-sex unions can in fact achieve a union which can “realize it [marriage] in a ‘partial and analogous way.’” This is what made Cardinal Zen and the other cardinals “astonished.” The CDF document by contrast made a distinction between “positive elements” in a same-sex union and the fact that these cannot in any way approximate marriage even by analogy.
The Holy Father then states the following:
b) It is not a mere question of names, but the reality that we call marriage has a unique essential constitution that demands an exclusive name, not applicable to other realities. It is undoubtedly much more than a mere “ideal.”
c) For this reason the Church avoids any kind of rite or sacramental that could contradict this conviction and give the impression that something that is not marriage is recognized as marriage.
It is indeed good that the Holy Father says that marriage is “undoubtedly much more than a mere ‘ideal.’” It seems to me, however, that the Holy Father changes the parameters of the judgement from the CDF document. The 2021 document said that the question was not whether something was being recognized as marriage – all sides agree that it’s not marriage. The question was whether the same-sex blessing created a “certain imitation and analogue” to the Sacrament and contradicted thereby God’s plan for creation. This emphasises the close bond between Sacraments and sacramentals, whereas the Holy Father seems to be emphasising the contrast between the same.
The Holy Father continues:
d) In dealing with people, however, we must not lose the pastoral charity that must permeate all our decisions and attitudes. The defense of objective truth is not the only expression of this charity, which is also made up of kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement. Therefore, we cannot become judges who only deny, reject, exclude.
This seems to be a strange thing to add, since this was never in question. This seems to be a distraction from the main issue (the same can be said of paragraph F). But then the Holy Father seems to alter the parameters of the 2021 document further:
e) For this reason, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage. For when a blessing is requested, one is expressing a request for help from God, a plea for a better life, a trust in a Father who can help us to live better (emphasis added).
Here it seems that the Holy Father allows for a blessing of more than an individual person, departing from what was said before. In addition, the manifest will to “live better” is not specific to the question of living chastely according to “God’s plan.” The final paragraph seems to further undermine the CDF document, which seemed to establish a universal “norm.”
Fernández’s New Responsum
Now in the newly released further response given by now Cardinal Fernández, those same departures seem to be evident again:
What the Church said is that the homosexual union is not blessed, because it [the Church] has the clear definition of marriage which is a union between a male and female open to new life.
Only that is called matrimony – marriage, only that reality is called that way.
So the blessing that could confuse and not make clear about this reality is not good for the Church.
But perhaps also [they] need blessings, not only one isolated person, but two persons who are asking for a blessing because they want to be faithful to God, they want to be better, they want to grow in their Christian life.
The blessing is not a sacrament. And we mustn’t ask the same conditions [for] a simple blessing that we ask for a sacrament.
Blessing is a sign of the “opera pastorale” [pastoral work], to every people in every situation, and we [need to] know nothing [about] the people with how is his Christian life, the morals and other things [in order] to give the blessing (emphasis added).
This would seem to confuse the issue further. Fernández says that a “homosexual union” cannot be blessed, but that is because this would be a claim that this is a marriage, which it is not. But he then says that two persons can be blessed, and thus their relationship, which does not manifest a will to live according to “God’s plan” of chastity, but rather a more general “be better” and “grow in their Christian life.” This is latter clarified that there is actually no requirement to know their morals to give a blessing.
Therefore, the widespread interpretation give to these two responsa from Fernández and the Pope, namely, that they are “opening the possibility for blessing same-sex unions,” is not excluded. For this reason, even if their intention was somehow orthodox, it would seem that they are bound by charity to confirm the 2021 against this widespread interpretation, due to the presence of spiritual scandal.
A Charitable Interpretation?
Since we are bound by charity to assume the best until reason forbids it, is it possible to put a better interpretation on these responsa? We should be eager to give the best possible interpretations to these things. However, to me, the difficulty comes when they both allow blessings of two people together, who are not explicit in their intention to live chastely, but only express general good intentions. I do not see how a blessing of two people together does not bless their relationship, and contradict the 2021 ruling, which led Cardinal Zen to call it “pastorally untenable.” The subsequent reponsa seem to make the same-sex relationship, as long as it is not called a “marriage,” into an “legitimate object of an ecclesial blessing.” Thus the rephrasing of the new dubium is as follows:
Is it possible that in some circumstances a pastor could bless unions between homosexual persons, thus suggesting that homosexual behavior as such would not be contrary to God’s law and the person’s journey toward God? Linked to this dubium is the need to raise another: does the teaching upheld by the universal ordinary magisterium, that every sexual act outside of marriage, and in particular homosexual acts, constitutes an objectively grave sin against God’s law, regardless of the circumstances in which it takes place and the intention with which it is carried out, continue to be valid?
This gets right back to the original dubium answered in 2021. It would seem, further, that the official answer of 2021 holds the most weight from a Magisterial point of view, since it is issued officially with official language, expressly approved. Therefore even besides the obligation of charity, it would seem that this should be our interpretive key of subsequent responsa. I do not see how the subsequent responsa do not contradict 2021, but I also do not see how they overrule the same. Yet if the matter had been closed by 2021, why did the Holy Father reportedly entrust the 2024 synod with this question?
Ultimately the theologians will have to work this out as to what is being said and not said. We should maintain a charitable openness to the best possible interpretation, without forsaking what our reason tells us.
In any case, we recommend all readers to the great Catholic apostolate for people with same-sex temptations, Courage International, which helps those who struggle in this way to indeed live a chaste life by God’s grace. And in this heroic effort they need the blessings and support of good priests and faithful. Therefore we wish that the Holy Father would promote Courage International, instead of seeming to promote James Martin and New Ways Ministry.
1/24 Against the Errors of @JamesMartinSJ
His best-selling book Building a Bridge, promoted by notorious prelates, includes many erroneous teachings which imperil souls. pic.twitter.com/UBnm60xQ02
— OnePeterFive (@OnePeterFive) June 1, 2022
 The sin of scandal is an occasion for your neighbour’s spiritual ruin. “Yet there can be passive scandal, without sin on the part of the person whose action has occasioned the scandal, as for instance, when a person is scandalized at another’s good deed. On like manner active scandal is always a sin in the person who gives scandal, since either what he does is a sin, or if it only have the appearance of sin, it should always be left undone out of that love for our neighbor which binds each one to be solicitous for his neighbor’s spiritual welfare; so that if he persist in doing it he acts against charity” (II-II q43 a2).
Timothy S. Flanders earned a BA in Greek and Latin from Grand Valley State University in 2010 with special studies in history, writing and Arabic. As a result of his studies, he converted from Protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy and began working in education among ages Kindergarten to adult. He then pursued a Masters’ Degree in Christian history and theology with the Catholic University of Ukraine. In 2013, as a result of further searching, he converted to Roman Catholicism shortly after Pope Francis was elected. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate dedicated to uniting Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. In 2021, he became the editor-in-chief of the online journal, OnePeterFive. He is the author of three books: Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics, City of God versus City of Man: The Battles of the Church from Antiquity to the Present and When the Gates of Hell Prevail: What Catholics Do in Dark Times, as well as a forthcoming book about Eastern Orthodoxy, published by St. Paul Center. He lives in Michigan with his wife and six children.