African bishops reject same-sex blessings authorised by Pope

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (PHOTO: Catholic Herald)

Originally published in the Catholic Herald

The Catholic leadership of the entire continent of Africa has rejected blessings for same-sex unions authorised last month by the Pope.

The African bishops have issued an emphatic, and unified, “no” in response to a December 18 Vatican declaration authorising the non-liturgical blessing of same-sex unions, indicating such blessings would cause confusion on the continent and will not be administered.

Their rejection of Fudicia Supplicans puts the African Church dramatically at odds with the Vatican, which just a week earlier demanded that all bishops assented to the document.

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In a five-page document released January 4, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith said it was vital that all conferences respected Pope Francis’s decision to allow blessings for same-sex couples.

“There is no room to distance ourselves doctrinally” from the Pope’s declaration about blessings, the letter from the DDF said, and added that the document can’t be considered as “heretical, contrary to the tradition of the Church or blasphemous”.

“Prudence and attention to the ecclesial context and to the local culture could allow for different methods of application,” the letter states, but insisted that it should not boil down to “a total or definitive denial of this path that it proposed to priests”.

Fiducia Supplicans permits non-liturgical blessings for same-sex couples and those in irregular relationships on the understanding that such acts do not, and cannot, equate to sacramental marriage or endorse a relationship at odds with Catholic moral teaching.

It has been widely criticised for creating “scandal” and “confusion” among the faithful at a time when Catholic teaching on human sexuality, marriage and the family is under sustained attack around the world.

The reaction of the African bishops came in a January 11 letter signed by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo, president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), saying it was based on feedback from the various bishops’ conferences across the continent.

While insisting that the episcopal conferences of Africa will continue to enjoy communion with Pope Francis, Cardinal Ambongo said African bishops nevertheless “believe that the extra-liturgical blessings proposed in the declaration Fiducia Supplicans cannot be carried out in Africa without exposing themselves to scandals”.

The letter states that Fiducia Supplicans has “sown misconceptions and unrest in the minds of many lay faithful, consecrated persons, and even pastors, and has aroused strong reactions”.

Emphasising that the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage has not changed, in that it still regards marriage as a union between a man and a woman in Holy matrimony for the purpose of procreation, Cardinal Ambongo said: “African bishops do not consider it appropriate for Africa to bless homosexual unions or same-sex couples because, in our context, this would cause confusion and would be in direct contradiction to the cultural ethos of African communities.”

“The language of Fiducia Supplicans remains too subtle for simple people to understand,” he said.

“Furthermore, it remains very difficult to be convincing that people of the same sex who live in a stable union do not claim the legitimacy of their own status.”

Cardinal Ambongo called on African clergy to continue giving pastoral assistance to all its members and encouraged the clergy to “to provide welcoming and supportive pastoral care, particularly to couples in irregular situations”.

“African bishops’ conferences emphasise that people with a homosexual tendency must be treated with respect and dignity, while reminding them that unions of persons of the same-sex are contrary to the will of God and therefore cannot receive the blessing of the Church,” the SECAM president said.

He echoed the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law”.

Cardinal Ambongo said SECAM will “continue to reflect on the value of the general theme of this document, apart from just blessings for couples in an irregular situation, that is to say, on the richness of spontaneous blessings in everyday pastoral care”.

The letter of the African bishops, the cardinal added, has received “the agreement of His Holiness Pope Francis and of His Eminence Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith”.

The Catholic Church is nevertheless becoming increasingly and bitterly divided over the document.

Besides the African bishops’ conferences, the document has been rejected by bishops’ conferences in Hungary, Poland and Kazakhstan.

Some of the most severe criticism has come from the heads of Vatican dicasteries who served under the predecessors of Pope Francis.

They include African Cardinal Francis Sarah, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, who warned bishops against applying the document.

To do so, he said, would be to participate in “the work of the divider … sowing doubt and scandal in the souls of the faithful by claiming to bless homosexual unions as if they were legitimate, in conformity with the nature created by God, as if they could lead to holiness and human happiness”.

Cardinal Sarah, pictured, said the actions of such bishops will “only generate errors, scandals, doubts and disappointments”.

He said: “These bishops ignore or forget the severe warning of Jesus against those who scandalise the little ones.”

Fiducia Supplicans was nevertheless accepted uncritically by bishops in Ireland, Hong Kong, India, Portugal, Germany, Croatia, Belgium and Austria.

It was accepted in France but with nine French bishops publicly dissenting from the demand to bless same-sex couples.

Cardinal Mauro Gambetti told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that same-sex couples will be able to receive blessings at St Peter’s Basilica, Rome.

In the United States the document has been broadly welcomed by the bishops, though in a few individual cases there is strong opposition to it. There is also open opposition from individual bishops in Peru, Uruguay, Brazil and Switzerland.

Most opposition in America, the UK and Australia is coming from priests, with the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy in each country explicitly rejecting its provisions.

In Spain and Latin America, priests have launched a petition demanding that the Pope rescinds Fiducia Supplicans, prompting Cardinal José Cobo of Madrid to threaten disciplinary action against any of his clergy who sign it, warning his priests that “we are going to fully apply the Pope’s doctrine” on same-sex blessings.

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