Pope Francis allows priests to bless same-sex couples: What does this mean for the Catholic Church and its followers in Africa?


HARARE – Social media went apoplectic on Monday 18 December 2023 when the Vatican Press released the declaration, "Fiducia Supplicans" (Supplicating Trust) subtitled, "On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings". The declaration was published by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, a prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Catholic Church with the approval of Pope Francis. 

Catholic allows priests to bless same sex couples
Image: AFP-Getty 

After this publication, the general interpretation of the headlines in mainstream media inclined towards the perception that Pope Francis had concretely allowed priests to bless same-sex couples, sparking concern among conservative Catholics, especially in Africa. 

Both local and global media were abuzz with the headlines, hailing the news as a significant stride towards making the Roman Catholic Church more inclusive for the LGBTQ community. Pope Francis was hailed for his ‘envisioned approach of a more pastoral and less rigid church.’ 

This left many Catholics in Africa, myself included, bewildered and grappling to comprehend the exact nature of these developments.

In this article, we are going after the elephant in the room, going deep into a burning question that's probably still on the minds of many Catholics: Did the Church actually give its stamp of approval to same-sex marriages? 

And if not, what's the real meaning behind the declarations we've seen in the document published this Monday? What does this all mean for African Catholics?

Did the Church actually give its stamp of approval to same-sex marriages?

The straightforward answer is a no. However, Pope Francis did permit priests to bless same-sex couples. In essence, the mainstream media was technically correct—the Church did authorize priests to offer blessings for same-sex marriages. Yet, there are more nuances to the story. 

In the introductory note, to the "Fiducia Supplicans", Cardinal Fernandez highlighted that questions regarding whether a priest can bless LGBTQ+ or other unmarried couples had been repeatedly submitted to the doctrinal office in recent years. 

Cardinal Fernandez emphasized that the Church is not blessing or recognising such relationships. He added that, to prevent such confusion, blessings should not be given "during or associated with civil or same-sex union ceremonies." 

Additionally, these blessings should avoid incorporating "any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding."

Cardinal Fernandez further revealed that the necessity for a more comprehensive explanation of blessings became even more important when Pope Francis was asked responded to the "dubia" or questions posed by several cardinals, which was published in early October. 

Throughout the history of the Catholic Church, cardinals and bishops draft specific questions, referred to as dubia, or "doubts". These queries are intended to elicit clear affirmative or negative responses from Pope or the relevant Dicastery concerning several topical issues that might need addressing at the time. 

In this year's set of dubia, Pope Francis addressed five specific questions, and his response to the second dubium, particularly on the topic of same-sex marriage, garnered significant attention from Catholics worldwide.

In the dubium, the Pope reiterated that marriage is an "exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to conceiving children." 

This is why the Church "avoids all kinds of rites or sacramentals that could contradict this conviction and imply that it is recognizing as a marriage something that is not."

What is the real meaning behind the declarations we have seen in the new document published? 

We have clarified that the Catholic Church is not endorsing same-sex marriages, and the fundamental marriage doctrine remains unchanged. However, what alterations have occurred, and what specific authorizations did the Pope grant to priests in this context?

The declaration explored the possibility of blessings for couples in "irregular situations" and same-sex couples. 

The declaration introduced the possibility of a blessing that is not included in any traditional liturgical rite, but a blessing that is seen as a supplication for God's help and grace upon those acknowledging their need for assistance, recognizing the need for God's help in their lives. 

It is merely a request for divine assistance to enrich, heal, and elevate what is true, good, and valid in their relationships.

However, the declaration stressed that the manner in which these blessings are performed should differ from the ritual blessings of marriage conducted by ecclesiastical authorities. This distinction is made to prevent confusion with the Sacrament of Marriage.

In my view, the Church was never going to close its doors to same-sex couples, much like it wouldn't for other groups it might consider ‘immoral, such as terrorists, prostitutes, thieves, or murderers. 

Everyone, regardless of their background, is welcome to seek blessings and divine assistance in enriching, healing, and elevating what is true, good, and valid in their lives, just like any other Catholic. The declaration bridged a gap and took a step that we all saw coming.

What does this all mean for African Catholics?

Africa is widely known for considering homosexuality culturally, legally and religiously unacceptable. Introducing the idea of blessing same-sex couples in any capacity might face resistance; and from another perspective, it might be a step in the right direction. 

The positive aspect is that, according to the declaration "Fiducia Supplicans" from the Vatican, same-sex marriages and relationships are still not recognized by the Church. 

For the most part, African bishops have denounced the move as incongruent with what is deemed to be religiously and culturally correct. And it is expected that huge sections of Catholics in Africa will oppose the idea. 

But at the same time this portends a chance for progressive discourses on critical issues of equality to emerge in conservative spaces such as churches. For now, the reality on the ground is that the move has received harsh criticism and it will take a long time for the church in Africa, and even globally, to gracefully embrace the notion of priests blessing same-sex couples. 

*Chengetai Nyamushonyongora writes here in his personal capacity. 

Post a Comment