Can anything good come from blessing a same sex couple?

Peter Kwak
January 18, 2024
Reproduced with Permission

A recent Vatican document, "Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings", has provoked intense controversy amongst Catholics. Unlike most pronouncements from the Vatican, it has been covered by all the major news media. Published with the explicit approval of Pope Francis, it allows Catholic priests to "bless" same-sex couples. It was immediately interpreted - wrongly -- as a step towards same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church.

Father Peter Kwak, a priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney, explains why this could be a positive development - if it is properly understood.

I was once having a rather heated discussion with a lay person. Like many others, this person alleged that Pope Francis was intent on changing traditional Catholic teaching on marriage and homosexuality. I disagreed, quite confident that the Pope had no such intention, far from it!

He then brought up the ultra-progressive views of the Catholic bishops of Germany and demanded to know why Pope Francis appeared to be doing do little or nothing to pull them into line.

At this very moment, something dawned on me -- an idea which had hitherto never entered my mind.

I had always thought that it was impossible to bless a same-sex couple because doing so would equate to endorsing an ideology which is at odds with the Word of God in Bible, not to mention the reality of sexuality itself.

But what if the blessing were done, not to condone or legitimise sinful behaviour, which neither conforms to God's will nor leads to true happiness, but to recognise and encourage those aspects which are truly good, in the hope that, with the help of God's mercy, they might grow to become the defining characteristics of the relationship over time?

In the 12 years of my priesthood this had never occurred to me. But suddenly it seemed to make sense! And then, just before Christmas, I was informed by friends (I rarely follow the mainstream media) that the Pope had approved a Vatican document which allows blessings for same sex couples under certain circumstances.

I immediately thought: "Yes, bless their desire for truly loving and therefore truly chaste friendship and companionship, which desire, even if imperfect, ought to be present in those who humbly seek the Church's blessing."

Is this really as implausible as some of the Pope's critics maintain?

Consider this. When Catholics get married outside the Church, their marriage is invalid in the Church's eyes. It was - and still is - grounds for an annulment. To discourage this, priests used to advise other Catholics, including the family, not to attend the wedding. They were supposed to avoid giving the impression of "blessing" what is an objectively sinful situation.

That particular attitude, although still legitimate in itself, has been by and large eclipsed. Nowadays most priests if not all would provide a more nuanced advice to the family and friends of someone marrying outside the Church: "Yes, attending such weddings can be permissible, even commendable, under certain circumstances."

In my mind, the big question is, which pathway will bring about the greatest amount of good? Should we err on the side of exclusion so that the pain of separation will lead the others to see the error of their ways? Or should we err on the side of inclusion, without explicitly compromising on the truth, so that the others can be accompanied in the right direction?

There is never a single right answer which remains immutable in the midst of changing circumstances; instead, there are a variety of possible approaches, many of which are legitimate in themselves, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Such is the case in matters which pertain to the order of prudence rather than to the order of truth. Not being able to distinguish between the two has been the cause of so much harmful hardness of heart toward the Pope.

There is a powerful philosophical and theological principle that we should never forget: Goodness diffuses itself. There is nothing new about the Church's commitment to recognising and encouraging what is good, even at the (reasonable, not excessive) risk of giving the unintended impression of condoning or legitimising what is not good, in the hope that, with the help of God's mercy, what is good will diffuse itself and ultimately win over entire persons and communities.

After all, there could be no authentic conversion -- no real change of heart -- unless God's grace were given to us first and then allowed to grow and flourish.

Throughout his pontificate, Pope Francis has been consistent in his preferential option for adventurous engagement with the seeds of goodness which are scattered across the complex landscape of the world, of the human heart.

Even if I weren't required by my Catholic faith to heed his leadership with utmost earnestness, I might have still believed that the benefit of following the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, which seems very much inspired by the Gospel itself, would far outweigh the cost in the end!