By María del Carmen Izquierdo.*
Todo lo que Ud. quiera, si señor, pero son las palabras las que cantan, las que suben y bajan (Pablo Neruda).
My contribution to this issue is a reflection on the words used by the C.D.F. in their negative response to the dubium regarding the blessing of unions of persons of the same sex. I consider words that tear down and bind us with the burden of sin in contrast with words of blessing that speak goodness and affirm our dignity as children of God.
The recent Responsum ad dubium issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith denying the ministerial priestly blessing of same-sex unions caused a great deal of distress in many sectors. While the response did not surprise me, the timing and the language of the explanatory note dismayed me. Those sharp-edged words cut deep and appear to be issued to rein in Francis over his pastoral approach towards the LGBTQ community. I wish the CDF had just kept quiet.
When Pope Francis appointed Luis Cardinal Ladaria, a fellow Jesuit, as prefect of the CDF many hoped that the days of dogmatic condemnatory language were over. Not so, I now see; same old. The tone strayed far from Francis pastoral approach, from his message of mercy and inclusion and his insistence on the accompaniment of the marginalized. The timing of the response seems an intentional rejection of statements given by Francis in an interview while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The Pope’s words had recently been made public, raising the hopes of many faithful. It must be noted that what Francis endorsed in the interview was the legal protection of civil unions for same-sex couples. I quote: “Homosexual people have a right to be a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.” The CDF was swift to make many people miserable over it.
There are three sentences in this brief decree reflecting the ingrained proclivity to condemn and censure that the magisterium is so fond of issuing. The words are as follows. First, that same-sex unions are denied a blessing because “God does not and cannot bless sin.” Second, that homosexuality is a choice: “… the blessing… would approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.” And lastly, that “the presence in such relationships of positive elements, … cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.”
Regarding the first of these statements, to catalogue same-sex unions as sinful justifies a culture of prejudice against LGBTQ people, a group that is frequently the target of discrimination and far too often of violence as well. These are juridical formularies that un-bless and place a scarlet letter on those whom the magisterium deems as “such.” In refusing to bless a great number of children of God because of their identity-oriented path in life, these formulations give tacit approval to continued intolerance and bigotry. To call same-sex unions a sin that God refuses to bless are powerful words, fostering the very “unjust discrimination” (is there such a thing as a just discrimination?) the document and the Catechism calls us to avoid. The document goes on to assert “The Christian community and its Pastors are called to welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations.” How so, may I ask, when I continue to meet committed, generous and loving Catholic parents who grieve because they are convinced their gay children will go to hell because “the Church says homosexuality is a sin.” If they have done further reading, they will also find that the Catechism refers to homosexual acts as “grave depravity” and as “intrinsically disordered.” (CCC, 2357)
The second of the aforementioned identified words in the decree refer to homosexuality as being a choice, a statement that contradicts scientific research and anthropology. Though the Catechism is also filled with condemnatory words in the section on homosexuality, it nevertheless states that “its (homosexuality) origins are unknown” (CCC 2357) further elaborating in CCC 2358 that “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition…” These words hardly classify homosexuality as a choice.
The third of the statements from the C.D.F. disallow the witness of many within and outside the faith community. We all agree that love is a blessing radiating goodness unto others. LGBTQ people also seek love and companioning, they have a right to a family, a right to community, a right to love and to be loved, as Francis has said. Most of us have met committed gay relationships that bless each other and those around them because of their union. I know of a few whose witness has taught us a few lessons about blessing, and one of these stories bears particular mention. I remember a homosexual couple in our neighborhood who fostered a newborn with HIV during the AIDS crisis in the early nineties. They could not adopt the baby because at that time, homosexual couples could not adopt in our State. I saw the baby grow into young adulthood, well cared for and blessed by the love of her foster gay parents as well as the blessing she brought to them. That love and care probably contributed to her healing. But the magisterium would rather dismiss that witness of self-gift and generosity as deeming it unworthy of a blessing.
I am convinced no Church document will ever bless same-sex unions. Harsh moral decrees in the area of homosexuality will continue to be proclaimed inflexibly, imposing shame, exclusion and punishment and satisfying an insatiable need for clarity. Why is it then that the LGBTQ community, their friends and families continue in their pursuit of a blessing from the Church? We seek God’s blessing because God creates under the sign of blessing (Gen. 1-2) and God’s children deserve to be blessed in their identity and in their love for each other. Referring to the responsum, Cardinal Schönborn says the Church is both Mater et Magistra, and her children merit to have their journey blessed by their Mother Church. (Joshua J. McElwee, Austria’s Cardinal Schönborn: God will not deny same-sex couples a blessing, NCR April 16-21, 2021)
Let us now turn toward words of blessing, for as Francis exhorts us, “the capacity to bless and to be blessed” is rooted in “God’s original imprint of goodness “ in God’s creation, adding that, “the hope of the world lies entirely in God’s blessing.” (General Audience, Catechesis on Prayer -17. The blessing, 2 December 2020).
First, regarding blessings, the issue arises as to what is licit and what is valid. The C.D.F. keeps to legal language mentioning the word “licit” and its derivatives three times when referring to the blessing of a same-sex couple. The decree doesn’t mention “validity.” A blessing may not be “licit”, but a blessing can surely be “valid.” As a child, I wondered why Isaac did not take back his blessing of Jacob once he realized he had given it to the wrong son. Blind Isaac’s blessing of Jacob was not licit, for according to the law it was to be given to the firstborn (Dt 21:17). But it was “valid” for once the blessing was given the words effected their intention and could not be taken back. As was with Jacob, notwithstanding its legality or lack thereof, a blessing affirms God’s grace and God’s love “accompanying those who receive it throughout their entire life” (Pope Francis, The blessing). The key question then is how to procure the blessing.
As People of God, we strive to sacramentalize every aspect of our daily lives for blessing is ingrained in and flows from our universal priesthood. “Sacramentals derive from the baptismal priesthood, every baptized person is called to be a blessing, and to bless.” (CCC, 1669). We live amidst daily blessings, blessings large and small, ritual blessings, blessings for meals, blessings in times of joy and the blessing we hope for in times of grief and loss. Some years ago, a priest friend told us he didn’t need to bless our new home because by virtue of our baptism we bless our home. That wonderful text of Father Edward Hayes, Prayers for the Domestic Church, is built upon the principle that God’s blessing extends to every aspect of our daily life, to relationships, to possessions that make our lives easier and more joyful, to the rhythm of the seasons. Francis reminds us that blessing means, “speaking goodness” (bene dicere) in words that, as my opening citation from Neruda implies, sing as they lift us to new possibilities. (Pope Francis, the blessing) And as such we are by our birthright Pilgrim People of God, striving and sometimes struggling to bless and be a blessing onto others.
If we then can bless a house, a field, a car, how much more should we not ask God to bless a union built on love? Faced with the teaching Church’s denial, we can find alternate ways to bring a blessing into a relationship. One of them is “the more excellent way” of which Paul speaks when introducing his great hymn of love in 1 Cor. 13. Francis alludes to this passage in a recent statement when he encourages Catholics to live “sowing seeds of love, not with fleeting words but through concrete, simple, and courageous examples; not with theoretical condemnations but with gestures of love.” (Pope Francis, Angelus address, March 21, 2021) Some see in these words of Francis a response to the responsum, a way of distancing himself from the C.D.F. document (Paul Elie, The New Yorker, “The Vatican’s Giant Step Backward on Same-Sex Unions,” March 23, 2021). What to do then, when the Church as Magistra withholds a blessing? Let us ask the Church, as Mater, to cover us with the love of Christ, as our matriarch Rebecca covered Jacob in disguise. We may thus be able, like Jacob, to steal the blessing.
- María del Carmen Izquierdo. Free-lance writer and Catholic Activist in Social Justice Issues.