Sunday, May 19, 2024

First church blessing of same-sex couples takes place in Poland

The first public blessing of same-sex couples in a church has taken place in Poland at an ecumenical service involving both Catholic and Protestant clergy.

The ceremony took place at the 19th-century Evangelical Reformed Parish in Warsaw – part of the Calvinist Polish Reformed Church – following a service to mark International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

It was led by the pastor of that church, Michał Jabłoński, alongside Halina Radacz, a pastor from the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession, Poland’s largest and oldest Protestant church denomination, and Adam Świeżyński, a Roman Catholic priest.

Among the couples to be blessed were Artur and Jan, who are both practising Catholics but who hide their relationship from their local parish priest.

“This blessing is very important to us; it is an extra injection of strength for our further life together,” Artur told news magazine Wprost. “We are both believers. Faith allowed us to survive the numerous crises that appeared in our lives. Sometimes it was the strongest anchor that kept us alive.”

“We are ordinary people; we love and suffer just like everyone else,” added Jan. “Hate is the most destructive feeling. And love of God and neighbour is the most important commandment resulting from the teachings of Jesus.”

One of the main organisers of the service, Uschi Pawlik of the Faith and Rainbow Foundation, is also a Catholic. She told Wprost that she understands how, for many of her fellow believers, blessing same-sex couples is unacceptable.

“But Pope Francis clearly shows a change in thinking about relationships in the Church and a transition from rigid rules and principles to pastoral flexibility,” added Pawlik. “There are more and more Polish Roman Catholic priests who support LGBT+ people.”

Last year, the Vatican issued a declaration on Catholic doctrine, titled Fiducia supplicans, that allowed priests to bless members of unmarried couples, including same-sex ones. 

Świeżyński, the Catholic priest who co-led yesterday’s ceremony in Warsaw, told Wprost that he hopes Fiducia supplicans will eventually open the way to such blessings taking place in Catholic churches in Poland.

“The fact that this is not currently happening is incomprehensible to me and makes me feel ashamed,” he added. “I interpret this as a denial of Christ’s teaching and a practical negation of his attitude towards people.”

Catholicism is Poland’s dominant religion: over 90% of the population are officially classified as Catholics and, in the 2021 national census, 71% of people identified themselves as Catholics.

The Catholic church hierarchy in Poland takes a strongly conservative position on LGBT+ issues. Some church figures have associated themselves with a campaign, led by the former ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, against what they call “LGBT ideology”.

Poland itself offers far fewer rights to LGBT+ people than most other European countries. Indeed, earlier this week, it was ranked as the EU’s worst country for LGBT+ people for the fifth year running in an annual index.

However, the new, more liberal coalition government that replaced PiS in office at the end of last year has pledged to expand LGBT+ rights, including introducing legal recognition for same-sex partnerships.