Pope Francis is certainly a mega-church pastor. As the head of the Roman Catholic Church, his flock numbers 1.4 billion souls worldwide. This year marks his 10th year serving in that role.
Clearly, the primary task of every pastor is to feed, protect and grow Jesus’ flock. After all, Jesus’ clear and thrice-given command to Peter was “feed my sheep.”
Pope Francis has seriously stumbled in this regard. Some might say he has failed.
In his decade as the head of the Catholic Church, he has become famous for being publicly equivocal on important Christian teachings on sexuality and human anthropology.
Of course, the pontiff’s famously confusing “Who am I to judge?” statement led to great perplexity among the faithful and was wildly celebrated by the gay and mainstream press. It earned Francis the title “Person of the Year” after all by leading gay publication The Advocate.
His widely reported equivocations have also led to major celebratory news articles, as in this recent piece from AP:
Under Francis, the Catholic Church is being lauded for welcoming things its own catechism clearly rejects as outside orthodox Christian belief and practice.
This all took a major leap this week when this pope approved a major official Declaration of the Catholic Church on the possibility of giving pastoral blessings to same-sex couples. Declarations are major teaching statements of the Catholic Church from the Vatican on belief and practice. They are so important and rare that the last one was given in the year 2000. This new pastoral Declaration was issued on Monday, December 18 and titled, “On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings.”
The Daily Citizen staff has carefully read the entire document and it is a garbled mess. It appears to say directly conflicting things. However, the preamble of the statement explains it “implies a real development” on viewing pastoral blessings on certain familial and sexual relationships.
The text of the Declaration clearly states that Catholic Church teaching “remains firm” that marriage is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children” and it is “only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning.” That is good.
But it also clearly states the Church “has considered several questions of both a formal and an informal nature about the possibility of blessing same-sex couples” in “light of Pope Francis’ fatherly and pastoral approach…” It is worth noting that every church that has entertained such a move has split in schism. Anglicans. Methodists. Lutherans. Presbyterians. And Baptists.
In paragraph 31 of this official Vatican declaration, it is overtly stated, “Within the horizon outlined here appears the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex, the form of which should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage.”
In paragraph 39, the Vatican states,
In any case, precisely to avoid any form of confusion or scandal, when the prayer of blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple.
To avoid confusion or scandal…
This is precisely what Pope Francis has created by approving and releasing this Declaration which clearly allows for priests to bless same-sex unions. The primary problem is that bishops who want to prevent their priests from blessing same-sex unions can find support in this Declaration. At the same time, bishops who want to allow their priests to do such blessings can also find strong support. It says two very different things with the same mouth. That is worse than pastoral malpractice.
To make matters worse, Francis and the Vatican introduce great confusion among their own faithful on this matter, then state in section 41 there will be no further discussion or clarification on the matter.
What has been said in this Declaration regarding the blessings of same-sex couples is sufficient to guide the prudent and fatherly discernment of ordained ministers in this regard. Thus, beyond the guidance provided above, no further responses should be expected about possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type.
It is certainly not sufficient.
As Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who faithfully led the Vatican’s doctrinal office from 2012 to 2017, the very office that issued this Declaration, explained of this problematic document, its teaching is “therefore self-contradictory and thus requires further clarification.”
Cardinal Müller followed this by saying, “The Church cannot celebrate one thing and teach another because, as St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, Christ was the Teacher ‘who spoke and it was done.’”
Jesus did indeed.
Clarity in fidelity must be the hallmark of any faithful pastor. In this regard, Pope Francis has clearly failed. He has long traded in clerical double-talk and pastoral obfuscation under the flimsy guise of love. He does this because he is either clueless or very intentional in spreading confusion. There really isn’t any other explanation. And we know who the author of confusion is. Francis’ approval of this recent official document clearly points to the latter conclusion.
The evidence of this fact is demonstrated in the newly emboldened actions of heretical priests like James Martin taking actions that are widely celebrated by outlets like The New York Times, seen here:
Martin praises this Vatican-approved shift in Catholic pastoral practice here:
Dear friends: I was happy to speak on a special edition of the "Inside the Vatican" podcast with my colleague @ColleenDulle at @americamag about the new Vatican document on blessings. More here: https://t.co/lvONhP4Q56 pic.twitter.com/AutTKhHirE
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) December 19, 2023
If Francis did not intend this, he should immediately correct Martin. The Pope will almost certainly not, which is very telling.
Pastors must speak with the clear voice of Scripture on the important issues of the day because being double-tongued leads to very dangerous places. We are now seeing just that in the Catholic Church. It is a vast and deadly failure in the shepherding of God’s people.
Image from Shutterstock.