“The Catholic Church has dealt a blow to LGBTQ worshippers hoping for a more liberal, progressive church.” So says NBC News about a recent statement by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
What was this terrible blow? The congregation, with Pope Francis’ approval, reaffirmed that the Church does not “have the power” to bless same-sex unions — or any relationship involving sexual activity outside of marriage, “the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life.”
The Church cannot change its teaching for self-styled “liberals” or “conservatives,” as it must serve the designs of God found in Scripture and fully revealed by Christ.
The statement also recognized that same-sex relationships may have “positive elements” to be valued, although they exist “within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.” It said the Church should welcome with respect and compassion people who have same-sex attraction, opposing all unjust discrimination.
Priests may even bless “individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God proposed by Church teaching.” In fact, “God himself never ceases to bless each of his pilgrim people in this world,” because “we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit.”
In other words, God rejects sin but loves the sinner, and the Church must do likewise. Or as an accompanying commentary says, “the negative judgment on the blessing of unions of persons of the same sex does not imply a judgment on persons.”
All this was lost on NBC News — and on its guest Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry. He had said in October that comments by Pope Francis on gay people would be a “tidal wave” sweeping away the Church’s past teaching and practice. He now says that Francis has only approved the new statement under “pressure” from the Vatican, apparently ignoring who runs the Vatican.
What Francis had said, in a documentary, was: “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. … Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.” Some decided to interpret him as saying that same-sex unions create families, but he was recognizing people’s need to keep receiving love and understanding from their own families.
That documentary also took out of context a position Francis has held since he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, when lawmakers were moving forward with same-sex marriage legislation: A law allowing “civil unions,” recognizing certain legal rights for people in nonmarital relationships, is preferable to a law confusing those relationships with marriage.
Then-Archbishop William J. Levada of San Francisco had taken a similar position shortly before Pope Benedict XVI named him to lead the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and made him a cardinal.
But Francis has also written that “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family” (“Amoris Laetitia,” No. 251) — perhaps the least pastoral-sounding quote in the new Vatican statement.
Some say LGBTQ people and those who love them will leave the Church over its teaching. That would be a tragedy, especially if it arises from a false and cynical narrative by activists trying to divide the Church.
Catholics would be leaving a sanctuary of God’s mercy and forgiveness to face a secular culture with its own strict orthodoxy and punishments — including the blacklisting of books, careers and reputations, and no mercy at all.
Richard Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.
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