THE Roman Catholic Church should seek to discern whether there are ways of blessing same-sex couples which do not undermine its teaching on marriage, the Pope has said.
Pope Francis was responding to dubia (doubts) sent to him in July by five cardinals. His written responses were published on Monday on the website of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The second of the dubia refers to description in Genesis of the creation of “male and female”, and says that St Paul teaches in Romans “that denying sexual difference is the consequence of denying the Creator”.
The cardinals ask: “Can the Church deviate from this ‘principle’ . . . as a mere ideal, and accept as a ‘possible good’ objectively sinful situations, such as unions with persons of the same sex, without departing from the revealed doctrine?”
The Pope responds by asserting that the RC Church “has a very clear understanding of marriage: an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation”. This is the only form of union which can be called “marriage”, he writes.
Any type of rite or sacrament that might contradict the Church’s definition of marriage should be avoided, he writes. It does not “suggest that something that is not marriage is recognised as marriage”.
He goes on, however, to urge “pastoral charity” in the Church’s dealings with people. “The defence of objective truth is not the only expression of this charity; it also includes kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement. Therefore, we cannot be judges who only deny, reject, and exclude.
“Therefore, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage. For when a blessing is requested, it is expressing a plea to God for help, a supplication to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us live better.”
Any pastoral decision to bless same-sex couples, however, should “not necessarily become a norm”, and should not be decided at the level of a diocese or bishops’ conference, he writes. “Canon law should not and cannot cover everything, nor should episcopal conferences with their varied documents and protocols claim to do so, as the life of the Church flows through many channels other than normative ones.”
The cardinals also ask the Pope whether he supports theologians in the Church who believe that “the sacramental ordination of women can be conferred.” They also press him on “whether the teaching of St John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis is still valid, which teaches as a truth to be held definitively the impossibility of conferring priestly ordination on women, so that this teaching is no longer subject to change or free discussion by pastors or theologians.”
The Pope responds that, in affirming the impossibility of conferring priestly ordination on women, St John Paul II “was in no way denigrating women and giving supreme power to men”. Pope Francis draws attention to his predecessor’s assertion, in another letter, that priestly authority was a matter of “function, not of dignity and holiness”, and, in another letter, that priestly function “should not be understood as a form of domination”.
Pope Francis writes: “If this is not understood, and practical consequences are not drawn from these distinctions, it will be difficult to accept that the priesthood is reserved only for men, and we will not be able to recognise the rights of women or the need for them to participate in various ways in the leadership of the Church.
“On the other hand, to be rigorous, let us recognise that a clear and authoritative doctrine on the exact nature of a ‘definitive statement’ has not yet been fully developed. It is not a dogmatic definition, and yet it must be adhered to by all. No one can publicly contradict it and yet it can be a subject of study, as with the case of the validity of ordinations in the Anglican Communion.”
On 21 August, the cardinals sent a follow-up letter to the Pope, which rephrased the questions to require a “Yes” or “No” response. They have not so far received a reply.
Read more on this story in this week’s Leader comment and Press column