Understanding Pope Francis’ Response to Same-Sex Union Blessings

In July 12, 2013, Pope Francis told a group of young people, “make a ruckus, but do a good job of it!” The next day, July 13—World Youth Day—he told 30,000 young people: “make a mess.”  What did Francis mean by such exhortations? Certainly, he urged that the followers of Christ disturb the status quo by living the Gospel in the modern world.

Perhaps this author may be forgiven if she sees irony in the pontiff’s statements—as this is a pope who is doing a pretty “good job” in causing a “ruckus” and making “a mess.” However, what’s most important is to understand Pope Francis—to understand the foundational principle that drives his papacy—as this principle is the basis for the most recent “ruckus,” which, it would not be an exaggeration to say, has rocked the Church and perhaps the world.

A sampling of the October 3rd headlines tells the story: “Pope suggests blessings for same-sex unions may be possible” (Associated Press); “Pope Francis Suggests Gay Couples Could Be Blessed in Vatican Reversal” (The Guardian); “Pope Francis signals openness to blessings for gay couples ahead of synod” (Washington Post).

On July 10 of this year, five cardinals submitted five questions—“dubia”—to Pope Francis. They are Walter Brandmüller of Germany, a former Vatican historian; Raymond Burke of the United States, whom Francis had removed as head of the Vatican’s supreme court; Juan Sandoval of Mexico, the retired archbishop of Guadalajara; Robert Sarah of Guinea, the retired head of the Vatican’s liturgy office; and Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong.

Surprisingly, Francis answered the dubia the very next day—very different from his silence when some of these same cardinals submitted questions to him in 2016 seeking clarification on the interpretation of Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, particularly regarding the admission of divorced and remarried Catholics to the sacraments. Francis’ answers to the current dubia included a response to the following question, number 2: “Dubium regarding the assertion that the widespread practice of blessing same-sex unions is in accordance with Revelation and the Magisterium (CCC 2357).”

The pope responded:

According to the Divine Revelation, attested in Sacred Scripture, which the Church teaches, “listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit” (Dei Verbum, 10),  “In the beginning,” God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them, and blessed them to be fruitful (cf. Genesis 1:27-28) and hence, the Apostle Paul teaches that denying sexual difference is the consequence of denying the Creator (Romans 1:24-32). We ask: can the Church deviate from this “principle,” considering it, in contrast to what was taught in Veritatis splendor, 103, as a mere ideal, and accept as a “possible good” objectively sinful situations, such as unions with persons of the same sex, without departing from the revealed doctrine?

It is customary for dubia to be answered with a simple “yes” or “no,” and that is what the cardinals expected. Francis could easily have answered this dubium with a simple “no” and thus affirmed the doctrine of the Church. However, the preface to dubium number 2 placed the question within the context of blessings for same sex unions, and thus, Francis chose to provide an elaborated response with Points A through G. In points A, B, and C, Francis clearly explained the Catholic doctrine on marriage. Other types of union cannot be equated with it—and the Church must avoid any type of rite that would “suggest that something that is not marriage is recognized as marriage.”

Point D is where the pope wades into troubled waters, beginning with the word “However.” Here, the remainder of his response is marked by the primary principle of the Francis pontificate—namely, the conflict he poses between doctrine (the rules) and “pastoral charity.”

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