Friday, December 29, 2023

Blessings offer ‘grace and mercy’, not approval, says cardinal

Cardinal's Homilies - Diocese of Westminster

The Archbishop of Westminster said that the Vatican’s declaration on blessings for couples in irregular relationships described something “quite different from a blessing of the union or partnership itself”.

In a letter to the priests of the Archdiocese of Westminster dated 21 December, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that the declaration Fiducia Supplicans, published last week by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), “reminds us of the nature and use of blessings”.

“The declaration makes it clear that such prayer and blessings may include all people, whatever their circumstance, who wish to approach God for grace and mercy,” he said.

“This includes those whose pattern and partnerships in life are outside the clear and consistent norms of Church teaching – those in irregular marriages and those in same-sex partnerships and civil marriages.”

In common with many bishops’ responses to the DDF document, Cardinal Nichols emphasised that these blessings were not a form of same-sex marriage.

He said that the declaration defines such blessings as “a moment of turning to God for his mercy and for the grace to lead a life of increasing faithful love and service in obedience to the Lord”.  They must be “‘spontaneous’ and never part of a ritual or liturgical act”.

The letter was circulated with an explanatory note by Bishop John Sherrington, an auxiliary in the archdiocese, who described the declaration as a “rich and broad reflection on the meaning of blessings” which “presents a broader and richer theological-pastoral understanding of blessings which extends beyond liturgical rites”.

“This Declaration affirms the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage and states that blessings of people in complex situations does not validate their status or change in anyway the Church's teaching,” Bishop Sherrington wrote.

“These blessings are acts of devotion which are outside of the Eucharist and sacramental practice.”

His note outlines the distinction made in Fiducia Supplicans between “ascending” and “descending” blessings, with the “pastoral blessings” envisaged for couples in irregular relationships defined as the latter.

“Such a blessing unites intercessory prayer with the invocation of God’s help by those who humbly turn to him.”

Since the publication of the document, the prefect of the DDF Cardinal Victor Fernández has reiterated that it “supports with great clarity and simplicity the perennial Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality”. 

He told the Spanish daily ABC that “it’s proper for each local bishop to make that discernment in his diocese or in any case, to give further guidance”.

LGBT+ Catholics Westminster, the group mandated by Cardinal Nichols to develop the archdiocese’s pastoral support for LGBT+ Catholics and their families, said that Fiducia Supplicans was “nothing short of wonderful for those many couples in committed relationships”.

A statement issued by the group on 19 December said the document was a “welcoming Christmas gift” and “another small step towards the radical inclusion of LGBT+ people of God”.

“The Catholic Church has always been very comfortable to give blessings to a vast range of inanimate objects ranging from homes, offices and vehicles, even machines of war, as well as to beloved pets and other animals,” the statement said.

“The idea, not to say practice, that a loving and committed same-gender couple could deserve a blessing in their faith and from the Church that they love so much, has been a struggle for the Church for far too long.”

The British province of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy criticised Fiducia Supplicans, arguing that “such blessings are pastorally and practically inadmissible”.

The confraternity, which has 500 members among British clergy and religious, issued a statement saying that it felt “impelled to re-assert the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church” following the DDF’s publication.

“We note the noble pastoral desire to assist people to move forward by renewal of life and the call to conversion, building on all aspects of natural good will and virtue,” it said.

“Nevertheless, we see no situation in which such a blessing of a couple could be properly and adequately distinguished from some level of approval.”

Instead, these blessings would “inevitably lead to scandal” and “confuse the faithful over the actual theology of marriage and human sexuality”, the confraternity’s statement said, insisting they “would work against the legitimate care a priest owes his flock”.