Family feud: On the blessing of homosexual couples, the Vatican has an enemy in the house
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May 24, 2021 (Settimo Cielo) – He will take office in Rome at the end of the summer. But Philippe Bordeyne, the new president of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, has already shown his cards in advance. And he has done so precisely on the most explosive issue in the Church today, that of the blessing of homosexual couples.
In an essay in “Transversalités,” the magazine of the Institut Catholique of Paris of which he has been rector up to now, Bordeyne holds that yes, it is a good thing to bless homosexual couples “when they solicit the Church’s prayer to accompany their love, their union,” albeit with the double precaution of blessing them “preferably” in a liturgical form “of a private nature” and with a personal blessing for each member of the couple, “in order to mark the difference with the nuptial blessing prayers.”
The essay is worth reading in its entirety. But this is already enough to understand how Bordeyne ranks not among the obedient but among the rebels against the “Responsum” with which on March 15 the congregation for the doctrine of the faith prohibited the blessing of homosexual couples. A “Responsum” immediately rejected by bishops, priests, and faithful above all from Germany and thereabouts, including Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, and instead defended with drawn sword by another cardinal like Camillo Ruini, with Pope Francis in the middle leaning now this way and now that, without ever making it clear which side he will end up on for good.
Now, that the new president of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences should thus place himself at the antipodes of the doctrine and pastoral care of the perennial Church - and on “something that the Church cannot do, neither now nor ever,” as Cardinal Ruini has reiterated, because “only what is in keeping with God’s plan can be blessed, not what is contrary to it, such as unions between persons of the same sex” - is a sign of a definitive route reversal in the history of this institute, just as it celebrates its forty years of life.
It is a route reversal that is coming to fruition today but started long ago, beginning with the exclusion, in 2014, at the behest of Pope Francis, of any representative of the John Paul II Institute from the synod on the family, precisely the subject of its most specific expertise.
Then there was in 2016 the appointment of the ultra-Bergoglian Vincenzo Paglia as Grand Chancellor, followed the year after by the motu proprio with which Pope Francis changed the institute’s name while maintaining its attribution to John Paul II, the founder.
In the summer of 2019 the statutes were rewritten, the curriculum revamped, the teaching staff purged, starting with president Livio Melina. The protest of professors and students even gained the public support of pope emeritus Benedict XVI. But without any effect whatsoever. Even new president PierAngelo Sequeri - a Milanese theologian of acknowledged merit inexplicably retooled for this task - soon found himself on the sidelines of the new course, because of the autonomy with which he forged ahead in his theological reflection, among other things by strongly defending an interpretation of Paul VI’s highly contested encyclical “Humanae vitae” faithful to its original meaning.
But now that Sequeri has also been put on leave and replaced by Bordeyne, the institute’s alignment with the new course desired by Pope Francis is practically complete.
This has also been conveyed by what was the swan song of outgoing president Sequeri: the speech he gave last May 5 at an event organized by Grand Chancellor Paglia to celebrate the institute’s fortieth anniversary, together with two other prominent theologians, French Jesuit Christoph Theobald and German Benedictine Elmar Salmann.
The three talks can be listened to in the video recording of the event, which had as its general title: “Today and tomorrow: imagining theology.” But here it should suffice to point out that, in the face of a Theobald implacable in demolishing the model of theology supported by John Paul II and Benedict XVI and instead exalting the “enlightened pragmatism” dear to Pope Francis, with his “magnificent polyhedron” of theologies, Sequeri has said things completely different if not opposite and - with respect to the institute’s new course - politically incorrect.
In challenging the fashionable theories that in order to exalt faith devalue doctrine, Sequeri let loose with a hymn to the “authoritative catechism of Catholic doctrine that neatly and systematically presents in hundreds of pages the master lines of the orthodoxy of the faith, to explain what we think and what we believe in”; and therefore “if you lose the catechism you also lose the faith, because the catechism is the thought of faith.”
He reminded those who today aspire to update theology in their own way that “so far the only successful experiment in modernizing theology has been the Council of Trent. A perfect machine, a Church armored in dogma, a bit narrow, but capable of integrating the biblical reasoning of the Protestants and of filling Europe with wonders, taking the best, from Michelangelo to Raphael. And this was its response to humanism: ‘It is beautiful to dwell in the presence of God’, with churches made showpiece and the liturgy enchantment.”
And to those who separate faith from morality he replied that “the vast majority of conflicts in the interpretation of faith, on which its consistency is decided, are not the Trinitarian perichoresis but are precisely the moral questions, of sex or of society.”
Sequeri is certainly not suspected of conservatism, but in these unconventional words of his there is much of Joseph Ratzinger and nothing of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, never cited by him, as opposed to Theobald.
But by now the institute has turned the page, with a new president and a new heading that clashes with the pope whose name it continues to bear and who founded it in the same year as his brush with martyrdom, that May 13, 1981.
Not to mention that the three-way dialogue mentioned above, between Theobald, Salmann and Sequeri, was hosted in the hall that bears the name of the first president of the institute, the theologian and later bishop and cardinal Carlo Caffarra (1938-2017), leader of the four cardinals who in 2016 presented to Francis those very serious “dubia” on the new course of the doctrine and pastoral care of marriage, to which the pope has never given an answer, refusing even to receive Caffarra and the others in audience.
Returning to Bordeyne, here is a brief extract of the conclusions of his essay in “Transversalités,” in which he approves the liturgical blessing of same-sex couples.
Entitled back when it was first written “L’Église catholique en travail de discernement face aux unions homosexuelles,” the essay came out in the same days as the “Responsum” of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith that prohibited this blessing, effectively disobeying it.
It will be interesting to see how Church higher-ups will deal with this sensational conflict within the Vatican, on a moral question so decisive for the faith.
Instructions on how to bless homosexual couples
by Philippe Bordeyne
Every baptized person benefits from the prayer of the Church and enjoys a fundamental right to benefit from it. Consequently, there is no doubt that people engaged in a homosexual union have the right to solicit the pastoral help of the Church, and particularly the help of prayer, on their path to holiness.
At the same time, the Church cannot ignore the fact that certain ecclesial practices risk introducing confusion about the nature of Christian marriage or increasing the confusions circulating in society about the nature of marriage in general. It is therefore necessary to make distinctions on two levels, between public prayer and private prayer on the one hand and the blessing of persons and the blessing of the couple or their union on the other.
First of all, [...] when two homosexual persons seek the prayer of the Church to accompany their love, their union, or the child they have welcomed, a private prayer is preferable to avoid giving bait to the claims, explicit or implicit, of legitimization of homosexual unions in analogy to marriage.
Likewise, in the event that a blessing prayer should be foreseen, it would be better to limit oneself to a blessing of the persons, discarding formulations that would evoke their union too directly, in order to avoid confusion with the ritual blessing of a man and a woman united in marriage. [...] The ecclesial sign of the blessing, performed by a minister of the Church, would therefore be granted to two persons who, each having formed a judgment of conscience taking into account their own limitations, seek the Church’s help to grow in openness to grace. In concrete terms, it would be desirable that the minister subsequently proceed with two personal prayers of blessing. [...]
To the extent to which the Catholic Church is on a path of moral and pastoral discernment regarding homosexual unions, one may formulate the vow that she should agree to root this work in liturgical prayer, which is the place par excellence in which Christ manifests his presence and his saving power to his Church.
In this essay, Bordeyne also proposes liturgical formulas to be used in blessing homosexual couples. In fact, this practice has already been in use for years, especially in Germany, Austria, and Belgium, as well as being repeated in recent days on a large scale as a sign of challenge to the “Responsum” of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
In 2020, in Paderborn, a volume came out entitled “Paare. Riten. Kirche”[Couples. Ceremonies. Church], with a preface by the auxiliary bishop of Essen, Ludger Schepers, which also assembles twenty examples of liturgical blessings of homosexual or otherwise “irregular” couples, accompanied by practical guidelines on places, rites, formulas, symbols of the celebrations.
Reprinted with permission by Settimo Cielo