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Understanding the central point of the CDF’s affirmation of marriage
The recent statement by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, issued in answer to the question of whether or not priests may bless same-gender intimate unions, is certain to ignite much discussion among Catholics and others pleased by the statement, as well as others unhappy with it.
Within the community of the Church, at least in this country, some popular opinion studies say that many Catholics would have no problem were such blessings conferred.
Looking more broadly at the scene of American institutional religion, several mainline Protestant denominations have created formal liturgies to offer such blessings.
As for public attitudes, irrespective of organized religion, more Americans accept, not to mention defend, same-gender unions than oppose them. As a result of a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court several years ago, no state may forbid marriage between persons of the same sex.
Therefore, in publishing this statement, with the explicit approval of Pope Francis himself, the Church is swimming against a strong cultural current. Realizing the emotion involved in this case, it may face more criticism, even from its own members, and possibly from some of its ordained ministers, than it has experienced since the 1968 criticism by Pope St. Paul VI of artificial birth control.
To calm the situation, so that more precise reflection can occur, it would help utterly to disconnect this recent declaration from tolerating or, God forbid, advocating hostility or discrimination aimed at persons of same gender sexual attraction. Hostility happens still. This hostility, and its consequences in abuse of persons of same-gender attraction, are an outrage and, in the eyes of the Church as clearly labelled by authorities beginning with Roman pontiffs, immoral.
No one ever loses the human dignity that proceeds from divine creation.
Another caution in viewing this matter echoes the Lord Jesus. “Judge not,” when it comes to calling any person a sinner. No one knows the inner thoughts of another, or another’s subjective morality.
These factors considered, why ever did the Church’s highest office in researching and expressing Catholic doctrine take this position now?
First, the congregation, and the pope, owed it to the membership of the Church to specify what the Church teaches in these circumstances, what it always has taught, and why it has held its views, and holds them still, on this subject.
Shifts in public opinion in this area, and heightened emotions, do not argue for Church silence or vagueness. To the contrary, the current cultural attitude demands the Church’s attention and direct comment, based on its traditional understanding of divine revelation.
The Church disapproves of same gender unions, and therefore of same gender marriage, for the simple reason that it does not see itself able to change what it has believed to be divinely revealed — namely, that physical intimacy is the unique and holy expression of two persons, one man and one woman, united in matrimony.
This ancient belief is hardly new or a constriction of marriage, but instead a proclamation of its majesty in the revealed plan of God. Marriage is part of the wider reality that all human life and activity are truly worthy if they occur within the revealed plan of God.
Liturgical blessings, as the document said, are formal actions to call down the grace and help of God on events and conditions that promote what the Church earnestly believes to have been revealed as the divine plan.
Just as it is unfair to say that this position of the Church allies Catholicism with those who would insult or bring violence upon persons of same-gender sexual attraction, it is outrageous to imply that this statement wishes ill for anyone involved.
For Catholics, perhaps the best advice is to pause and avoid conclusions that forget the central point. The Church is bound to preach what it always has believed that God has revealed.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.