Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Blessings for same-sex couples: An elephant in the room?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 18, 2023

The new declaration Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings, from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, is primarily an effort to place the question of blessings for same-sex couples into the larger context of non-liturgical blessings as a whole. Its strength is the distinction it makes between the purpose of ordinary blessings for the good of souls, on the one hand, and liturgical blessings which are tied to the Church’s sacramental system, on the other.

The distinction is a valid one in the sense that a liturgical blessing has a particular purpose in connection with the Church’s particular sacramental objectives, especially (in this case) the liturgical sacramental objective of Christian marriage. On the other hand, an ordinary personal blessing is directed toward the well-being of the one who is blessed. As an example of my own, a father does not withhold his blessing from a child because the child is a sinner. So, after all, is the father.

But there is an important distinction that is not made in the document, the distinction about the specific purpose of the blessing, which may either be implied or explicitly requested. Instead, the document assumes that ordinary blessings given personally by the Church’s ministers are fairly generalized (as indeed they usually are), being ordered to the spiritual and material well-being of the person(s) blessed. The text assumes that “when one asks for a blessing, one is expressing a petition for God’s assistance, a plea to live better, and confidence in a Father who can help us live better”.

This is certainly true generally. Nonetheless, questions arise: What about the pro-abortion Catholic politician who makes a photo-op out of asking the priest to bless him in the pursuit of his political objectives? Indeed, what about any deliberately public sinner who, riding a rising tide of public approval, demands respect from the Church through a priestly blessing? Modern ideological pressures place a broad range of such motives into the blessing mix. What about the desire to use the blessing as personal validation?

I mentioned above that a father does not withhold his blessing from a sinful child. But neither does he bless the child in the context of his defiant persistence in a sin. We must recognize that this new Declaration has been issued precisely in response to a strong movement both in society as a whole and within the Church herself—a carefully orchestrated movement to fight step by step for Catholic acceptance, not of repentant sinners but of the LGBTQ+ way of life.

Drawing a line in sand

In other words, the promulgation of this Declaration, whatever its good points, also represents a significant pastoral failure which, in context, amounts to a refusal. It fails specifically to go beyond the theory of blessings to the unique manner in which the blessing of same-sex couples will be deliberately and predictably exploited. Therefore, despite the effort in the document to make all the right distinctions, it remains blind to the practical consequences of making them. It is clearly predictable that many “Catholic” same-sex couples will attempt precisely to seek ecclesial validation and acceptance for their “committed sexual relationship” by requesting whatever blessings they can get, while continuing to press for more. They and their advocates will interpret the new document as drawing a line…but only in the sand.

Now it might be reasonably argued that most same-sex couples have no desire for any sort of blessing from the Church. But what of same-sex couples who avail themselves of the opportunities provided by parishes which deliberately welcome the rainbow, by groups such as New Ways Ministry, and by advocates for the full Catholicization of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle, such as Fr. James Martin, SJ. Surely all these and more will have an interest in being “validated” by such blessings. And, at exactly the same time, they will continue to advocate for solemn liturgical blessings—beginning no doubt with an explicit paraliturgical “rite”. The Vatican, it seems, has all but forgotten that it is dealing here not just with a sin but with a dominant ideological movement.

Those concerned about this issue should read the entire document (which can be done very quickly, being only seven single-spaced pages long). In the face of some media reports, they will be pleasantly surprised. While the text claims that it represents a development of the understanding of blessings by Pope Francis, I actually see no evidence of anything theologically new. It is just as easy to argue that the points of emphasis concerning the distinction between liturgical and non-liturgical blessings, while certainly legitimate, have been selected to advance a particular pastoral objective. The problem is that it may or may not in fact be a wise pastoral objective.

Without belaboring the historical background, there is certainly nothing new in observing that it has been a major preoccupation of the current pontificate to eliminate a “judgmental” attitude among the Church’s ministers such that, as much as possible in everyday practice, the distinction between culturally popular sins and their opposite virtues is effectively ignored. Those who fail in this quest are called “rigid”. I am pretty sure only God can sort out what in all this is motivated by a genuinely pastoral love, and what by either cowardice or culture-blindness. My only point here is that the same issue arises with respect to the very wisdom of the clarifications set forth in Fiducia Supplicans. In other words, even granted that the distinctions made are correct (as they certainly are), the question arises as to whether either the intended or unintended result will be a worsening of our pastoral situation in the Church today.

What the text actually says

The text of the document makes a significant distinction between the Church’s formal liturgical blessings and the personal blessings of her ministers. Again, the argument is essentially that liturgical blessings have a purpose specifically connected to the purposes of the Church’s sacraments, and that this purpose is unmistakably clear with respect to the Church’s understanding of marriage and the sacrament of Matrimony. But non-liturgical blessings are given as a token of God’s love for the total well-being of the person blessed, in response to an open-ended desire on the part of those who request or receive such blessings to draw closer to God and to more fully experience His providential care.

In this connection, the text makes it absolutely clear that personal ministerial blessings are not to be given in any context which would undermine this normal and healthy distinction. For example, they are not to be given in the context created by the celebration of a same-sex “marriage” or civil union even if requested directly by a same-sex couple. The text specifies that other contexts are suitable, such as “a visit to a shrine, a meeting with a priest, a prayer recited in a group, or during a pilgrimage” (nos. 39-40): “There is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness” (40).

This of course must be true in theory. But do we not expect precisely this “intention to legitimize” among same-sex couples who request a blessing and among at least some priests who bestow it? Do we not see precisely in such blessings a current platform for testing same-sex marital and sexual legitimacy?

In any case, the text goes on to make clear that, since any blessings given should be non-formal and non-liturgical, nobody should expect any further clarifications: “What has been said…is sufficient to guide the prudent and fatherly discernment of ordained ministers in this regard. Thus…no further responses should be expected about possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type” (41). In other words, since the blessings envisioned are ordinary, non-liturgical pastoral practice, nobody should press for specific forms and rituals for this purpose. Indeed:

36….In this sense, it is essential to grasp the Holy Father’s concern that these non-ritualized blessings never cease being simple gestures that provide an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who ask for them, careful that they should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament. Indeed, such a ritualization would constitute a serious impoverishment because it would subject a gesture of great value in popular piety to excessive control, depriving ministers of freedom and spontaneity in their pastoral accompaniment of people’s lives.

The text further stipulates that “it is not appropriate for a diocese, a bishops’ conference, or any other ecclesial structure to constantly and officially establish procedures or rituals for all kinds of matters” (37). The reason for this is typical of Pope Francis—the emphasis that such decisions are appropriate only to “pastoral prudence”:

38. For this reason, one should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples in an irregular situation. At the same time, one should not prevent or prohibit the Church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing.

What the text seems to imply

In a vacuum, all this is reasonable. But one wonders if this careful verbiage is at least partially directed not at solving the problem of same-sex blessings but of keeping it below the flashpoint which would require ecclesiastical authority to deal with it forthrightly. As Phil Lawler has already noted in A Vatican document that undermines itself, the text makes a point of decoupling pastoral practice from “the fixed nature of certain doctrinal and disciplinary schemes”, a vague statement which raises serious questions of its own. Context is everything, and what the text implies throughout is that pastoral decisions need not take into account the ideological pressure applied by Western culture as a whole and even by many persons and groups which have been encouraged to operate freely within the Church herself.

This conundrum is typical of the current pontificate. Pope Francis has only rarely indicated any aversion to these immense ideological pressures. Instead, it has been a very strong pattern of his pontificate to legitimate such pressures as much as possible. Without formally teaching error, he often expresses himself in ways that undermine legitimate concern about the rising tide of ideology within the Church herself, and he rarely offers any culturally unpopular correctives. Instead, there has been a relentless emphasis on ideologically safe environmental concerns and peaceful relations with others, interests which have rarely reached beyond presently-accepted natural virtues to the proclamation of the whole Gospel of Christ.

In other words, as has been typical throughout the pontificate, this particular Declaration rides on the assumption that it is dealing with a question that has been raised by believing Catholics who are not at all embroiled in our culture’s extensive effort to get the Church to acknowledge the goodness of its sex-and-gender ideology. In this context, the text does an excellent job of making distinctions about the nature of non-liturgical blessings, and even does so in a way that might increase our appreciation for such blessings. But, as usual, Francis refuses to address the deep underlying issues. He continues to run the Church in the same way that has has led to one scandal after another, at every level, from rural outposts to Rome herself.

At some point, authentic renewal requires cleaning up the kinds of messes which Pope Francis has stated from the first that he likes to make. Sound Catholic teaching and sound Church administration demand that moral problems be faced head-on. It is not a question of how much legitimization the Church can provide to those who identify positively with their own sins, confining her preference for virtue to the smallest possible officially liturgical space. It is a question of how the Church can effectively counter her own increasing domination by contrary ideologies. In other words, there is nothing wrong with this text On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings—except that it still pretends there is no elephant in the room.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: FrHughM - Dec. 21, 2023 1:14 PM ET USA

    Does the declaration apply to Israeli air-force squadrons?

  • Posted by: chady - Dec. 21, 2023 12:30 PM ET USA

    Regrettably, some of the non-conformist churches here in the UK have interpreted this as the Vatican's approval of same-sex relationships. This is very worrying as many of my own NC friends have been very encouraged by the papacy of Pope Francis. Postings are beginning to appear on YT slandering Pope Francis. Perhaps we need to be reminded ourselves of the NT reading Titus 3: 1-2.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Dec. 20, 2023 3:36 PM ET USA

    Here is a model of clarity on the subject, doctrinally bulletproof, which should be issued to every Catholic parish in the world offering, as it does, brief, concise guidance. Archbishop Peta, Bishop Schneider ban ‘blessings’ of homosexual couples in Kazakhstan archdiocese. Scroll down for the complete statement; best source I could find for it.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Dec. 20, 2023 9:35 AM ET USA

    If it is truly a blessing that is desired by the seeking couple, let it be administered to them individually in the confessional.

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Dec. 20, 2023 7:53 AM ET USA

    The declaration is pure sophistry. It is shameful. It violates Church teaching, Tradition and Holy Scripture. It is total surrender to the Zeitgeist. Bishops everywhere must repudiate the declaration and give strong correction to Fernandez and PF. We are about to see who are the men and who are the boys.

  • Posted by: mary_conces3421 - Dec. 20, 2023 7:24 AM ET USA

    No problem. I can say “Bless you” when a man with pink hair holding hands with a man in a dress sneezes. But I can’t pronounce them man and wife. I couldn’t anyway. Not could—or can—a priest.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Dec. 19, 2023 6:35 PM ET USA

    Is there a significant moral difference between a homosexual practitioner and partner asking for a "pastoral blessing" and a Mafia hit-man asking for a pastoral blessing before he goes out to execute a contract? I guess the Dicastery sees a difference, but I don't see how.

  • Posted by: padre3536 - Dec. 19, 2023 9:31 AM ET USA

    Evil. The Liturgical distinction is not relevant, rather that a same-sex relationship cannot be blessed: it is intrinsically disordered against God, His Creation and Commands. Every person may be blessed, adulterer, drunkard, thief, etc, but not in the context of a disordered attraction. The disordered fornication/adultery couple cannot be blessed in their attraction either.

  • Posted by: loumiamo4057 - Dec. 19, 2023 6:03 AM ET USA

    Now I am on pins and needles, wondering where a Colorado bakery will fall on this issue, and whether or not Hallmark has time to get new cards ready for valentine's day?

  • Posted by: Ratzinger64 - Dec. 19, 2023 1:01 AM ET USA

    Instead of a "spontaneous" blessing, what same sex "couples" should be offered is a spontaneous exorcism along the lines of those in the Rites of Christian Initiation. To wit in part: "Do not let . . . their minds [be] tied to earthly desires. Do not let them remain . . . enslaved by a spirit of unbelief . . . . Let them SUBMIT themselves to the Spirit of Grace." The Church should offer this to people trapped in same sex relationships. Maybe hearing these words will lead to repentance.

  • Posted by: philq1039 - Dec. 18, 2023 10:00 PM ET USA

    Seems to me that the issue is “couples”. If the reference were to the LGBT person there would be little to infer. Sadly same sex “couples” are front and center.

  • Posted by: Headmaster - Dec. 18, 2023 9:02 PM ET USA

    In asking for a blessing from a Catholic priest, how many same-sex couples will appreciate the distinction between a liturgical and a personal blessing? How many of those couples will see the blessing as a personal blessing only and not a blessing of their union, particularly if the request is made and administered to them together? How could same-sex couples who receive the blessing from a Catholic priest not see it as inherently Catholic and liturgical, however informally given?

  • Posted by: Headmaster - Dec. 18, 2023 8:35 PM ET USA

    Having read and considered the Declaration in full, I don’t think that one should underestimate the extent to which the Catholic Church (or more particularly its earthly leadership) has in this singular instance caved to the same-sex union lobby. The Declaration is a gateway move, and its risks are immense.