Pope Francis is known as a pope of surprises, and his decision to approve a document that cracked open the door to blessing same-sex unions and other “irregular” couples is a big one, writes Michael Sean Winters at National Catholic Reporter.
The declaration, Fiducia Supplicans from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, was bound to be the stuff of controversy. The pope might, in some future interview, reveal why he chose to have the declaration issued, and issued now. That decision is largely, but not entirely, in keeping with some of the dominant projects of the pontificate.
There was no “major doctrinal shift” contained in the declaration. In fact, the document went out of its way to point out that the church’s doctrine about marriage was left entirely intact:
Therefore, rites and prayers that could create confusion between what constitutes marriage — which is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children” — and what contradicts it are inadmissible. This conviction is grounded in the perennial Catholic doctrine of marriage; it is only in this context that sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning. The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.
The shift Francis intends is, at once, less exact and more profound than a doctrinal shift. What Francis has been trying to achieve for many years is to relocate the place of doctrine within the magisterium of the church, specifically to insist that doctrine serve the good of souls, not the other way round.
Instead of seeing the pope’s responsibility as confined to the articulation of clearly thought-out statements of what the church does and does not believe, Francis wants the teaching office to prioritise its own pastoral application above doctrinal clarity. “How will this affect real people?” Francis asks before he puts pen to paper.
What the declaration does is say that the church will not treat people in “irregular” situations — like being in a LGBTQ relationship or being divorced and remarried — as if they are beyond the pale. We welcome them into the church. Full stop. We cannot perform a marriage for a relationship that our Catholic tradition does not recognize as a marriage, but that should not be any bar to our welcoming people.
The pope is distancing the Catholic Church from the position adopted by some conservative Catholics and evangelicals that sees opposition to homosexuality as somehow especially important in defining the Christian faith.
How big a deal is the new Vatican document on same-sex blessings? (National Catholic Reporter)