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San Francisco Archbishop partially bans blessing LGBTQ+ couples

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By Robert Shine | MOUNT RAINIER, MD. – A U.S. archbishop has said priests may deny blessings to same-gender couples. Today’s post features that news, along with other U.S. prelates’ reactions to Fiducia Supplicans, the Vatican declaration allowing such blessings.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco issued a private memorandum shortly after the Vatican declaration was released, in which the archbishop gave priests five instructions. Cordileone was apparently motivated to write due to the “ignorance, animosity, and judgmentalism” found in the news media, a situation he found regretable as it came just before Christmas.

According to the Bay Area Reporter (BAR), the instructions to priests include a ban on “pre-secheduled blessings” and any blessings of couples if “such a blessing cannot be given if it would be a cause of scandal, that is, if it would mislead either the individuals themselves or others into believing that there may be contexts other than marriage in which ‘sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning.” BAR continued, “Finally, Cordileone’s memo states, ‘as a consequence, any priest has the right to deny such blessings if, in his judgment, doing so would be a source of scandal in any way.’”

LGBTQ+ advocates have criticized Cordileone’s memo. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told BAR:

“‘The Vatican’s instructions for blessing same-gender couples offered a clear set of parameters for how, when, and what priests are supposed to do when people request such blessings. . .The instructions were very clear and detailed, and so it seems that Archbishop Cordileone’s additional comments, including a warning about scandal, were unnecessary. The archbishop’s warning may cause priests to be reluctant to give such blessings when asked, and may also cause some couples to be wary of asking for them.’”

Stan JR Zerkowski, executive director of Fortunate Families, added that Cordileone’s memo provided “an easy excuse for refusing to provide catechesis. . .and appears to be lacking in mercy, welcome, as well as pastoral sensitivity.”

While many prelates in the U.S. did not go as far as Cordileone, many of their statements were still negative or, at best, neutral. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a paragraph-long statement not from a bishop, but from spokesperson, Chieko Noguchi, who said only:

“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.”

Another USCCB statement was issued via Winona-Rochester’s Bishop Robert Barron, chair of the Conference’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, who said, in part:

“The statement in no way calls for a change in the Church’s teaching regarding marriage and sexuality. In fact, it goes to great lengths to insist that, in accord with unchanging doctrine, marriage is a union of one man and one woman in lifelong fidelity and openness to children.

“The blessings that it allows for those in irregular relationships are not liturgical in nature and hence do not imply any approbation of such relationships. Rather, these benedictions are informal and spontaneous, designed to call upon God’s mercy to heal, guide, and strengthen. Despite some misleading coverage in the press, the declaration does not constitute a ‘step’ toward ratification of same-sex marriage nor a compromising of the Church’s teaching regarding those in irregular relationships.”

Many U.S. bishops’ own statements followed these lines of argument, such as foregrounding not the question of blessings but claims that church teachings on marriage and sexuality did not change. Episcopal statements like this also emphasized that same-gender unions or even couples could not be blessed; any blessings were only for individuals. Indeed, many such statements even claimed there was nothing new or noteworthy about Fiducia Supplicans, despite the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith explicitly saying that church teaching evolved with this  declaration.

U.S. bishops whose responses were similar to those outlined above include: Bishop Lawrence Persico of ErieCardinal Sean O’Malley of BostonBishop William Joenson of Des MoinesBishop Larry Kulick of GreensburgArchbishop Jerome Listecki of MilwaukeeBishop Donald Hying of MadisonBishop Thomas Daly of SpokaneBishop David Walkowiak of Grand RapidsBishop James Johnston of Kansas City-St. JosephBishop John Doerfler of MarquetteBishop John Folda of FargoBishop Alfred Schlert of AllentownBishop Stephen Parkes of Savannah, and Bishop James Conley of Lincoln.

Bishop Andrew Cozzens of Crookston went so far as to conclude his statement with three paragraphs on the need for people in same-gender relationships to be repentant for being sinners.

Some bishops followed Cordileone in placing restrictions on blessings, such as Denver’s Archbishop Samuel Aquila who said in a statement that blessings should be done “with discretion, preferably privately to avoid scandal and confusion.” Bishop François Beyrouti of the Melkite Catholic Church’s Diocese of Newton issued a statement informing priests they could only perform blessings with his “prior written permission,” and “disregard for this prescription will result in canonical penalties.”


Likewise, certain bishops used more charged or offensive language, such as South Dakota’s two bishops, Peter Muhich of Rapid City and Donald DeGrood of Sioux Falls, who issued a joint letter about blessing “persons living in situations of unreptentant serious sin, such as same-sex sexual relationships, fornication, or adultery.”

They claimed the church “has no power to bless sin,” focusing much of their statement on repentance for such alleged sinners. And, oddly, Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston added in a media comment that Catholics in same-gender relationship, “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.”

On the other hand, some U.S. bishops welcomed the Vatican declaration on blessings.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago issued a lengthy statement, writing, in part, “[T]he Declaration is a step forward, and in keeping not only with Pope Francis’s desire to accompany people pastorally but Jesus’s desire to be present to all people who desire grace and support. . .Here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, we welcome this declaration, which will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God.”

Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose issued a statement that acknowledged church teaching on marriage had not changed, but that also said the declaration was helpful. He wrote, in part:

“[T]he Church recognizes the pastoral need to respond to those who humbly seek a blessing and express a desire for God’s mercy and assistance in order to dialogue with and invite them to a deeper relationship with the Lord. . .This declaration represents an important clarification that acknowledges and responds to the diverse realities of people’s lives while upholding the Church’s teachings on sacramental marriage.”

Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Suller, MSpS, of San Antonio offered a qualified endorsement. In a statement, the archbishop encouraged people to read the declaration directly so as not to “allow others to interpret for you what might very well be a misinterpretation.” He added:

“This declaration should not invoke scandal nor confusion for the people of God. It is issued to ensure that all of God’s children know they are loved and accepted. Ask any priest and they will share how often people seek a spontaneous and informal blessing from them. It is one of the many joys of priesthood! Those requesting such blessings seek God’s closeness, healing, and strength.”

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, who has repeatedly spoken in support of LGBTQ+ people, said in an interview that the declaration supports giving “simply a blessing and saying that God’s blessing you and supporting you.”

Another bishop who responded more positively to Fiducia Supplicans was Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

In a final note from the U.S., Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor now running to be the Republican presidential nominee, cited Pope Francis’ support for blessing same-gender couples to explain how he came to now support marriage equality. At a town hall forum, Christie, who is Catholic, explained, “[I]t was a process I had to go through to change the way I’ve been raised both from a family perspective and what my mother and father taught me and felt and also from a religious perspective and […] what my church taught me to believe. . .Pope Francis is now allowing blessings of same-sex couples; even the Church is changing.”


Robert Shine is the Associate Director of New Ways Ministry, where he has served since 2012. He is the Managing Editor for Bondings 2.0, a daily blog of LGBTQ Catholic news, opinion, and spirituality. Bob has degrees in theology from The Catholic University of America and the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

The preceding article was previously published by New Ways Ministry and is republished with permission.


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