In mid-December, just as Christians were entering a profoundly holy season, Pope Francis and the Vatican created a huge pastoral mess for the faithful by releasing a very confusing and very official statement endorsing the blessing of same-sex couples.
On January 4, 2024, the Vatican made the problem significantly worse with a follow-up clarification. Think of Budweiser execs trying to clean up their Dylan Mulvaney/Bud Light mess, only showing they fail to understand the problem they created. But of course, we are not speaking of a beer company here. We are speaking of a major Christian institution. It is a scandal.
First, this “clarification” admits the Vatican is in crisis mode over this document and blames the reader. Second, it creates more confusion than it answers. Third, it ends up making no one happy.
Let us start with the good news, however, and there genuinely is a little here. As the Vatican realized their first statement created a great deal of confusion on the Catholic Church’s own clear and biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality, this new clarification asserts that marriage is “the ‘exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children’ – and what contradicts it are inadmissible.” It adds, “This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage; it is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.”
In the fifth paragraph, the Vatican directly states, “the Church does not have the power to impart blessings on unions of persons of the same sex.” This is good and true because no Christian can bless that which is clearly sinful and in violation of God’s divine and natural familial order.
The Vatican’s clarification continues,
For this reason, since the Church has always considered only those sexual relations that are lived out within marriage to be morally licit, the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice.
Casting Blame for the Blowback
It is good the Vatican cleared this up, but it did so with a follow-up document that, unlike the first, has no ecclesial authority whatsoever. It is merely a press release. The previous statement was one of the most authoritative and exclusive statements the Vatican produces. This imbalance is scandal on top of scandal.
It adds insult to dramatic injury to have this second statement cast blame for the blowback on the failure of the first because it holds its readers failed to give “a full and calm reading” of the original document. Never a good look to blame your listener for being confused when you were famously confusing. That is not the humility, clarity and grace of the Good Shepard.
Creates More Confusion
In section 2 of this second statement, the Vatican makes this very curious and confusing statement about their original pronouncement,
The Declaration contains a proposal for short and simple pastoral blessings (neither liturgical nor ritualized) of couples in irregular situations (but not of their unions) … which neither approve nor justify the situation in which these people find themselves.
So, the Vatican is clearly saying the Church can bless heterosexual cohabitating or same-sex couples, just not their unions? Who does that really work for? It doesn’t even make any sense.
As the National Catholic Register noted, “The press release speaks of both “couples” and sometimes “two people” without clarifying the difference. As Cardinal Gerhard Müller properly pointed out, “this is emptying a word of its meaning, since what defines a couple as couple is precisely their being a union.”
What kind of practical clarity does this messiness really offer to any pastor or parishioner? Like the first statement, this “clarification” is saying very contradictory things at the same time.
That is not good pastoral care because it simply not reasonable.
The detailed directions to pastors in section two of this clarification on how to navigate to whom and when they can give blessings are even more confusing. You can read it for yourself and ask yourself what clear light it provides to you if you were a pastor.
Making Everyone Unhappy
The original statement was clearly intended as an olive branch to the so-called LGBT community to make them feel welcome in the Catholic communion. It was received that way by certain gay-activist priests.
But such people certainly cannot be comforted by a document that clearly and rightly states their sexuality can never be approved by Christianity or the Catholic Church. So why even try to build a bridge that cannot sustain the slightest weight, as demonstrated in these two documents?
That is the problem that many Christian leaders get into when they foolishly believe they can honor and co-exist with LGBT ideology while remaining faithful to fundamental Christian teaching.
Pope Francis unwittingly demonstrated this with his new statement condemning surrogacy as “despicable” because it turns the human child into “an object of trafficking.”
He is exactly right, but surrogacy, while certainly not confined to same-sex couples, is a primary means by which male same-sex couples obtain children. Pope Francis’ correct condemnation of surrogacy is a direct affront to the very same couples he desires to offer blessings to. How can that be?
Yes, one creates a mess when he tries to walk both sides of a very clear divide: Remaining true to Jesus’ unblemished teaching on marriage and sexuality while also trying to cater to the latest fashions in popular culture. It’s always a fool’s errand.
The Vatican is demonstrating that fabulously right now, in real time.
As African Cardinal Robert Sarah has properly stated in firmly rejecting the Vatican’s statements, “To maintain peace and unity in truth, we must refuse to argue with the divider, we must respond to confusion with the word of God.”
The confusion must stop.
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