A senior Churchman in Vienna and member of the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, says he is “not happy with this statement from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith” – the watchdog’s official name – regarding the Church’s power to bless same-sex unions.
The Church has no such power, the CDF said on Monday of last week – and explained why in a detailed letter that secular media outlets and Catholic punditry have frequently either cherry-picked or largely ignored.
Cardinal Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, distinguished blessings given to persons from those given to couples or their unions, saying that the Church – like a mother – can and should bless persons who seek her blessing whenever possible.
“The Church, as is traditionally said, is Mater et Magistra, mother and teacher,” Cardinal Schönborn offered. “She has to teach, but she is a mother first,” he added, “and many people living and feeling same-sex [attraction] are particularly sensitive to this question: ‘Is the Church a mother to us?’ And they remain children of God,” he went on to say. “They, too, want to see the Church as a mother – and that is why this declaration hit many so particularly painfully: because they feel that they are being rejected by the Church.”
The distinction of individual blessings from those given to unions, however, was one the CDF letter explanatory was also at some pains to make.
“The answer to the proposed dubium does not preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations,” the CDF’s explanation said, “who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”
“Rather,” the CDF explanation went on to say, “it declares illicit any form of blessing that tends to acknowledge their unions as such.”
The reason: “In this case, in fact, the blessing would manifest not the intention to entrust such individual persons to the protection and help of God, in the sense mentioned above, but to approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.”
A leading theologian and member of the CDF – not to mention the principal architect of John Paul II’s Catechism of the Catholic Church – Cardinal Schönborn was speaking to Vienna’s archdiocesan newspaper, Der Sonntag.
In the interview published earlier this week, he also spoke of his disappointment: “That a positive concern can also be found behind the concern of this Roman declaration has not come across at all,” he said. “Namely, the high regard for sacramental marriage, which has become almost a rarity in today’s world.”
Marriage belongs to the order of nature and acquires supernatural dignity when two baptised persons validly enter a marital union with each other. This is something to which Cardinal Schönborn alluded in his response, but did not make explicit. “Sacramental” marriage, he said, “is something great and holy, the covenant of a man and a woman: a covenant for life, promised and made before God, which can then also lead to children who are perceived as a gift from God.”
Cardinal Schönborn also said he would be willing to see creative ways discovered to circumvent the CDF directive, if not flout it outright.
“If the request for the blessing is not a show,” Cardinal Schönborn told the archdiocesan Sonntag paper, “not just a kind of coronation of an external ritual – if the request for the blessing is sincere – [if] it is really the request for God’s blessing for a life path that two people, in whatever situation, are trying to walk; then they will not be denied this blessing.”
Cardinal Schönborn went on to say his pastoral duty would be to admonish the couple and call the persons seeking the blessing on their union to “the ideal” proposed by the Church.
“Even if, as a priest or bishop, I have to say: ‘You have not realized the full ideal,” Cardinal Schönborn explained, “it is important that you live your way on the basis of human virtues, without which there is no successful partnership’.”
“[T]hat deserves a blessing,” Cardinal Schönborn continued. “Whether the right form of expression for this is a liturgical blessing ceremony – that is something to think about carefully,” he said, in response to a question from his own archdiocesan newspaper soliciting his thoughts on the CDF’s considered official response to a doubt and explanation of the reasons for the response given.