The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement that highlighted the “distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings and pastoral blessings” and said: “The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.” Diocesan approaches have varied. Some bishops, like Bishop Andrew Cozzens of the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, are emphasizing the Church’s continued prohibition on homosexual activities: “It is impossible for us to bless a same-sex union … [but] we may bless individuals who are not yet living in full accord with the Gospel,” the bishop said. Other bishops, such as Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago, suggested the Vatican document was a positive step for the Church.
Catholic bishops around the world are deeply divided on a Vatican declaration that permits nonliturgical blessings of homosexual couples: some bishops are welcoming the news, some are approaching it with caution, while others are outright refusing to implement it.
In some countries, including Austria, Germany, and France, many Church leaders have warmly embraced the new guidelines on blessings. The heads of the bishops’ conferences in both Germany and Austria have suggested that priests cannot refuse to perform blessings for homosexual couples.
Church leaders in other countries, namely the United States, the Philippines, Ukraine, Ghana, and Kenya, have mostly accepted the declaration but are also urging caution in its implementation. This, they say, is to avoid any confusion that would lead people to incorrectly believe the Church permits homosexual activity.
Alternatively, Church leaders in at least three countries are refusing to implement the declaration entirely: Kazakhstan, Malawi, and Zambia. Two Kazakh bishops have been more critical than others, going as far as admonishing Pope Francis for approving the declaration.
The declaration, titled Fiducia Supplicans, allows “spontaneous” pastoral blessings for “same-sex couples” and other couples in “irregular situations.” It does not allow liturgical blessings for homosexual couples and states the pastoral blessings “should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union and not even in connection with them” and cannot “be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”
Bishops Embrace Blessing of Homosexual Couples
Some of the most enthusiastic support for the Vatican declaration came from high-ranking Church officials in Austria, Germany, and France.
Archbishop Franz Lackner, who heads the Austrian Bishops’ Conference, expressed “joy” over the Vatican declaration, according to an interview with Österreichischer Rundfunk, an Austrian public media company.
The archbishop said a relationship between a man and a woman is “ideal,” but “a relationship between two of the same sex is not entirely without truth: love, loyalty, and even hardship are shared with one another.”
Lackner said it is difficult to speak of a “must” in terms of religious life but that “basically, [a priest] can no longer say no” to blessing a homosexual couple.
Austria’s neighbors to the north in Germany are similarly embracing the declaration.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, who heads the German Bishops’ Conference, said he is “grateful for the pastoral perspective [the declaration] takes,” which he claims “points to the pastoral importance of a blessing that cannot be refused upon personal request.”
The bishop explained that blessings for homosexual couples are different from a marriage. He said that “a simple blessing need not and cannot require the same moral conditions that are required for receiving the sacraments.”
In France, Archbishop Hervé Giraud of the Archdiocese of Sens and Auxerre told the French Catholic news outlet La Croix that the declaration provides “another idea of blessing, a blessing of growth and not a blessing of pure recognition” and suggested that he may bless homosexual couples himself.
“I myself could give a blessing to a same-sex couple, because I believe it’s based on a beautiful idea of blessing, according to the Gospel and the style of Christ,” Giraud said.
Bishops Taking a More Cautious Approach
Numerous bishops around the world have accepted the declaration from the Vatican but have cautioned against misrepresenting the guidelines in a way that would suggest that the Church condones homosexual behavior.