The Catholic Church’s leadership across the entire continent of Africa has firmly rejected the blessings of same-sex couples.

On December 18, while Catholics and other Christians were in the season of Advent, preparing to celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Vatican released a highly controversial and confusing document, Fiducia Supplicans, which instantly caused consternation and trepidation among the faithful.

The document was authored by Victor Manuel Cardinal Fernández, prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and approved by Pope Francis. It opened the door to the blessing of same-sex couples and other couples in “irregular situations” – but ostensibly, not their unions – within the Catholic Church, if those blessings are “spontaneous,” not a part of any liturgical rite, and do not resemble marriage.

The document made clear that the Catholic Church continues to believe marriage is a sacrament between one man and one woman.

The document instantly divided Catholic bishops across the world, as you can see below:

More conservative bishops and conferences of bishops issued statements attempting to clarify the document for their dioceses and countries, and prohibiting the blessing of same-sex couples.

Two conservative bishops – Archbishop Tomash Peta and Auxiliary Bishop Athanasius Schneider – authored a joint statement calling Fiducia Supplicans a “great deception,” saying its proposal for permitting the blessing of same-sex couples “directly and seriously contradict Divine Revelation and the uninterrupted, bimillennial doctrine and practice of the Catholic Church.”

Two conservative cardinals (cardinals are senior members of the Catholic clergy who are given higher distinctions and responsibilities, including the election of the next pope) have also spoken out against Fiducia Supplicans: Gerhard Ludwig Cardinal Müller and Robert Cardinal Sarah.

The 78-year-old Guinean Cardinal Sarah said,

We do not oppose Pope Francis, but we firmly and radically oppose a heresy that seriously undermines the Church, the Body of Christ, because it is contrary to the Catholic faith and Tradition.

“The truth is the first of the mercies that Jesus offers to the sinner,” he added.

“The freedom we must offer to people living in homosexual unions lies in the truth of the word of God,” he continued. “How could we dare to make them believe that it would be good and desired by God for them to remain in the prison of their sin?”

Most recently, the Catholic bishops on the entire continent of Africa have agreed not to permit the blessing of same-sex couples.

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) – the conference that includes all the Catholic bishops of Africa and Madagascar – authored the SECAM’s statement.

Intriguingly, the cardinal said that the statement, signed January 11, received the agreement of Pope Francis and Victor Cardinal Fernández. It presents a consolidated summary of the positions adopted by various episcopal conferences across Africa.

“Within the Church family of God in Africa, this Declaration has caused a shockwave,” Cardinal Ambongo wrote. “It has sown misconceptions and unrest in the minds of many lay faithful, consecrated persons and even pastors and has aroused strong reactions,” adding,

The Episcopal Conferences generally prefer – each Bishop remaining free in his diocese – not to offer blessings to same-sex couples. … To support this position, a large majority of the intervention of the African Bishops are based above all on the Word of God. …

We, the African Bishops, do not consider it appropriate for Africa to bless homosexual unions or same-sex couples. …

We, African Bishops, insist on the call for the conversion of all.

Now, it’s important to remember that according to Catholic Church teaching, all individuals can be blessed, even those struggling with homosexuality. But the blessing of same-sex couples in the Catholic Church is wholly new, innovative, and deeply problematic.

At the very least, there is great irony in Pope Francis and Cardinal Fernández approving SECAM’s statement. Fiducia Supplicans clearly states,

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 […]. Canon Law should not and cannot cover everything, nor should the Episcopal Conferences claim to do so with their various documents and protocols.

In other words, Pope Francis’ approval of SECAM’s document already contradicts the original desire the pontiff and Card. Fernández expressed in Fiducia Supplicans for bishops and Episcopal Conferences not to establish “procedures or rituals” for blessings.

But when the Vatican publishes a document as confusing and convoluted as Fiducia Supplicans, it is the right and responsibility of orthodox bishops to clarify matters and faithfully shepherd their flock.

While conservative priests, bishops and cardinals continue to refuse to bless same-sex couples, more liberal clergy happily oblige such requests. As a result, discord will continue to be sown within the Catholic Church.

It’s ironic, and tragic, that the pope – intended to be the visible sign of unity among the Catholic faithful – has approved a confusing document that has caused such deep division, and then signed off on a statement from the African bishops which rejects his own proposal.

The issue of homosexuality has caused great disunion within Christianity – and it’s happening on both sides of the Tiber. Let’s pray for all the Christian faithful and church leaders to know and love the truth. Pray also for the upholding of orthodox Christian teaching and for unity among the faithful. As Jesus Christ prayed,

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21, ESV).

Focus on the Family exists to help families, and that includes help navigating the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism. Focus offers a free, one-time counseling consultation with a licensed or pastoral counselor. To request a consultation, call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or fill out our Counseling Consultation Request Form.

Related articles and resources:

Counseling Consultation & Referrals

Resources: Homosexuality

Understanding Homosexuality

Why Pope Francis Has Failed as a Pastor

Vatican ‘Clarifies’ Same-Sex Blessings Mess with Bigger Mess

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