The Catholic Church, which is still anti-LGBTQ, will let priests bless same-sex couples
The Church remains one of the most powerful forces in the world against LGBTQ rights
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In what might appear to be a big shift for the Catholic Church, Pope Francis announced yesterday, a day after his 87th birthday, that priests could now bless same-sex relationships. The New York Times described it as a way “to make the Roman Catholic Church more welcoming to L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics.”
“This new declaration opens the door to nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples, something that had been previously off-limits for bishops, priests and deacons,” said the Rev. James Martin, a prominent advocate for L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics. “Along with many priests, I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex unions.”
It’s a baby-step in the right direction, to be sure, in part because, in 2021, the Vatican rejected this very idea, claiming the Church “cannot bless sin.” (The new document also allows for the blessing of other couples “in irregular situations,” like straight people who weren’t married in the Church.)
But it’s important to put this in context because the Church is getting far more credit than it deserves here, largely by people unaware of just how bigoted the institution actually is. How much good is a baby-step forward after centuries of going in the other direction? Again: It’s incremental progress but hardly a cause for huge celebration.
Just consider what the Church officially believes—because none of that has changed.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (i.e. The Rulebook), homosexual acts are considered “intrinsically disordered.” The Church will not celebrate or recognize same-sex marriages. Incidentally, when it comes to trans people, the Church is even more pronounced in its bigotry: The Vatican says trans identities seek to “annihilate the concept of nature.“
But there’s a large and growing divide between Church leaders and the people in the pews. Most practicing Catholics are far more tolerant than the pope or the Vatican. In the United States, 61% of Catholics support marriage equality while 76% believe society should be accepting of homosexuality. Meanwhile, 37% of U.S. Catholics acknowledge the existence of trans people, which is low but in line with Americans as a whole. It’s also 37% higher than the Vatican wants to see.
Yesterday’s pronouncement, then, is a way to appease the sort of Catholics who are leaving the Church in droves. It comes over a month after the Church said trans people could be baptized in certain situations. It’s a breadcrumb offered to people who are starving, and who know damn well there’s better food outside the faith.
The effect of the move is that priests can say some magic words to same-sex couples without promoting their actual relationship, the idea of marriage, the possibility of a growing family, and definitely not the act of consummation. In effect, it’s hardly different from blessing two men or two women independently. But, sure, it’ll make some gay couples in the Catholic Church happier. That’s a good thing.
Still, it makes me wonder: Who the hell are these gay couples who remain in the Church despite everything the Church believes about them? How many of them want to get blessed by the same priest who would never marry them if they took their relationship to another level? Is there actually a gay audience for this “gift” or is the new rule really meant for straight Catholics with a better sense of morality and ethics than the Vatican hierarchy?
The people who receive blessings, in theory, are those who want God’s stamp of approval. They want a symbolic measure of good luck. And yet a gay couple asking for a blessing from a Catholic priest would receive even more good fortune if the Catholic Church stopped standing in the way of LGBTQ people altogether.
The Catholic Church is nothing more than the theological equivalent of Nikki Haley. Consider a Republican woman applauding the former governor for her “moderate” stance on abortion; it’s not actually moderate, and if abortion rights mattered to that voter, she would be far better off voting for a Democrat. Are we seriously supposed to celebrate the fact that Haley isn’t entirely off the deep end? GOP voters who think she’s their party’s savior are deluded—and so are Catholics who believe the pope’s announcement will make any difference to gay people in an institution that is inherently bigoted against them.
The Vatican’s “Fiducia Supplicans” (Requesting Trust) document says that “when people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it.” That’s all well and good, but it’s hardly a change from the past. The Church has routinely blessed people whom they deem sinners because it’s not like they do a background check on adulterers, single women whose pregnancies aren’t visible, drug users, etc. Hell, many priests have been blessing gay couples for years now because that’s how they interpreted the doctrine anyway. The new pronouncement simply formalizes what many Catholics already believed.
That’s not to say it’s bad. Only that it’s not that big a change. It certainly doesn’t make life better for gay couples whose existence continues to be harmed by conservative Catholics and the Vatican itself.
In fact, if gay couples remain in the Church because they can now get blessed, they are directly contributing to their own demise because the Church doesn’t want them to have a real relationship—and actively fights against their rights.
The Church even makes clear in the text that these blessings shouldn’t be construed as more serious than they really are—and don’t you dare try and pretend otherwise:
… 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.
If a gay Catholic couple wants a blessing, fine.
If a gay Catholic couple wants to get married, they’re screwed.
The only silver lining here is that traditionalists are furious at the pope even though this change doesn’t really amount to much. So give the pope some credit for that. Just don’t give him more credit than he deserves.