Featured Image
The 2019 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' June meeting in BaltimoreLisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews

(LifeSiteNews) — In the aftermath of Pope Francis’ new document attesting that priests are permitted to bless “couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples,” the majority of prelates so far have sought to defend and downplay the document’s significance, with others welcoming it as a sign of change.

Across the U.S. episcopate reactions have as yet been largely muted, with bishops seeking to avoid or downplay Pope Francis and Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández’s December 18 document Fiducia Supplicans, in which the Vatican approved of “blessings” for same-sex couples. Providing the national response was a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), although only from a spokesman, not from a representative bishop.

It read:

The Declaration issued today by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) articulated a distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings, and pastoral blessings, which may be given to persons who desire God’s loving grace in their lives. The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.

Fiducia Supplicans reiterated the Church’s teaching on marriage as only between man and woman, but added that under certain conditions there exists “the possibility of blessings of couples in irregular situations and of same-sex couples.”

READ: Pope Francis publishes norms for clergy to ‘bless’ homosexual couples

In his preamble to the document, Fernández – the new prefect of the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith – stated that the Church’s teaching on marriage was not changing, but that the document’s “innovative contribution” to, and “broadening” of, the “understanding of blessings” was a “real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church.”

Causing instant consternation in the Catholic world, the text was swiftly welcomed by pro-LGBT advocates, notably including Father James Martin S.J, who said he would now “be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex unions.”

Numerous traditional Catholics have also been swift to highlight the import of the text from the opposite position, however there has also been widespread efforts by both clerical and lay figures to present Fiducia Supplicans as not being in juxtaposition with Church teaching. 

Some bishops argued that the text did not offer any possibility of blessing for same-sex couples. Bishop Robert McManus of the Diocese of Worcester wrote the document “reaffirmed that the Church does not have the power to impart a liturgical blessing on irregular or same-sex couples or to bless their union.” 

Instead, McManus argued it offered “a type of blessing that can be conferred on anyone to invoke God’s help and mercy in their lives if the individuals seek to be guided by a greater understanding of God’s plan for love and truth. These blessings are offered for the people themselves, not their union.” 

But in contrast, Bishop Mark Brennan of the Diocese of WheelingCharleston was well aware of the document’s openness to the blessing of homosexual couples. “I guess the change is widening the scope of our consciousness of who can receive blessings,” he said, adding: 

But all the way along I think people have received blessings whether they were in any kind of union they were in, heterosexual or homosexual… If they’re living in a union in which they’re sexually active, and if it’s not a union the church can recognize, then they should not receive Holy Communion. They are welcome to come to Mass, they are welcome to pray.

This awareness was similarly stated by Bishop Michael Fisher of the Diocese of Buffalo, who noted not to confuse any homosexual blessing with marriage, and said:

Although we have not had time to study the document more fully, we understand that Catholic priests may now bless a same-sex couple, or other unmarried couples, as long as it is not a formal liturgical blessing and that the blessing does not impart the impression that the Church is blessing the union as if it were a marriage.

Especially warm in his praise for the pope and Fernández’s new document was the pro-LGBT Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe. He described the text as “a wonderful decision the Pope has made, and I support it completely.” 

“God loves us all. That is what the pope is saying,” added Wester, before saying that the document was a preventative measure to clergy “who only deny, reject and exclude.”

According to local news, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston stated he had “no problems” with the document’s proposal of blessings that do not resemble marriage. The reason for this stance was “because I don’t think anything really has changed, except we want to be merciful, always merciful,” he said:

God wants to bless everyone. There is a thing called sacramental blessings for marriage. They remain what they are. People who are not in valid unions you can’t bless the union but human beings reach out to God. They sometimes cry out to God, so for a priest to say a blessing for someone, that’s fine.

DiNardo’s archdiocesan province includes the Diocese of Tyler, which was until recently led by Bishop Joseph Strickland.

READ: EXCLUSIVE: Bishop Strickland urges bishops to say ‘no’ to Francis’ ‘blessings’ of homosexual couples

As yet, Strickland appears as perhaps the only voice amongst the American episcopate to have condemned the Vatican’s document. Issuing an exclusive video statement to LifeSiteNews, Strickland urged resistance to the call to issue same-sex blessings.

“We really simply need to be a united voice saying, ‘no,’ we will not respond to this,” Strickland stated. “We will not incorporate this into the life of the Church because we simply must say ‘no.’ And it needs to be a united voice.”

But the reception of most of the American bishops has largely been of a similar line, with some attesting that Fiducai Supplicans does not propose same-sex “blessings,” some praising it that it does, and others noting that same-sex “blessings” are permitted but are less warm in their reception of the news. 

Bishop Luis Zarama of the Diocese of Raleigh pointed journalists back to the USCCB’s statement, adding he would study the Vatican’s document further.

The Archdiocese of Mobile’s Bishop Thomas Rodi was similarly noncommittal or reactionary, stating that there had “not been sufficient time to reflect upon it.” He added, however, that “reflection and consultation will be necessary in order to determine the most appropriate fashion to give a blessing to a couple while at the same time, and as required by the Vatican document, avoiding any element that remotely resembles a marriage rite.” 

“It is also important to note that the Archdiocese of Mobile is always guided by the teachings of the Holy Father,” Rodi closed.

Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said that “blessings serve to open one’s life to God, to ask for His help to live better and to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.”

The Vatican’s document, he stated, was not an attempt “to validate same-sex marriage, which Catholics consider to be an illicit situation. Rather, this announcement allows for same-sex couples who seek God’s grace to receive a simple blessing from a priest.” Citing the guidelines issued by the Vatican, warning priests from letting such “blessings” resembles marriages, Rozanski attested that “for those who seek to open their lives to God and invoke the Holy Spirit, these blessings are an expression of the Church’s maternal heart. To put it another way, this announcement is a reminder that we nurture and promote the Church’s closeness to people in every circumstance in which they might seek God’s help and grace.”

Despite such assessments from multiple U.S. bishops, their views are not universally held. 

READ: Head of Austrian Bishops’ Conference says priests cannot say ‘no’ to blessing homosexual couples anymore

The German bishops’ president welcomed the text saying it means “a blessing can be given to couples who are unable to marry in the Church due to divorce, for example, and to same-sex couples.”

The Austrian bishops’ conference president warned that priests would not be allowed to refuse to offer blessings to same-sex couples, and even the Vatican’s official in-house news portal – Vatican News – summarized the document thus: “it will be possible to bless same-sex couples but without any type of ritualization or offering the impression of a marriage. The doctrine regarding marriage does not change, and the blessing does not signify approval of the union.”