Cardenal Willem Jacobus Eijk
(ZENIT News / Utrecht, Holland, 27.09.2022).- Given its interest, clarity and currency, we offer the analytical opinion article of the Archbishop of Utrecht, Cardinal Willem Jacobus Eijk, Primate of the Netherlands, on the “Liturgy of Blessing” for homosexual couples promoted by the Bishops of Belgium’s Flemish region.
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Belgium’s Flemish Bishops surprised many inside and outside the Church with their statement, published on September 20, 2022, entitled “To Be Close Pastorally to Homosexuals: For a Welcoming Church that Excludes No One.” For Catholics that accept the Church’s teachings, this was in no way an agreeable surprise. In fact, in the mentioned statement, the Flemish Bishops offer the possibility of a blessing to same sex couples in a lasting and monogamous relationship.
They also offer a model for the celebration of the Word and a prayer in which same sex couples can be blessed. Here is their scheme:
-Expression of commitment between both parties, manifesting their mutual bond before God. This can be done, for example, in the following terms:
“God of love and fidelity, we are before You today surrounded by members of our family and friends. We thank You that we were able to meet. We want to be there for others in all circumstances of life. We express with confidence that we want to work for the happiness of the other, day after day. Let us pray: grant us the strength to remain faithful to one another and to deepen our commitment. We trust in your closeness, we want to live by your Word, and give ourselves to the good.”
-Then the community prayer follows in which, the Flemish Bishops say, God is asked to act in the couple; it is the grace that enables them to take care of one another mutually and the community in general. There is also an example of this prayer:
“God and Father, today we surround N. and N. with our prayers. You know their heart and the path they will follow together henceforth. Make their commitment with the other to be strong and faithful. May their home be full of understanding, tolerance and care. May there be room for reconciliation and peace. Give us the strength to walk with them, together in the footprints of your Son and strengthened by the Spirit.”
It is the first time that an Episcopal Conference (or part of it) issues a statement in which the example is given of the celebration of the Word and the Prayer to bless a same sex couple. The Flemish Bishops took the notable step to allow the blessing of same sex couples based on their interpretation of certain passages of Amors Laetitia (AL), the Post-Synodal Exhortation issued by Pope Francis after the two Synods on the Family of 2014 and 2015 respectively. In it, Pope Francis affirms , among other things, “that every person, regardless of his sexual orientation, must be respected in his dignity and welcomed with respect” (AL 250).
To distinguish, accompany and integrate continue being the principal key words of Amoris Laetitia (Chapter 8), according to the Flemish Bishops. It goes without saying that people with a homosexual orientation must be treated with respect and have the right to pastoral care and guidance (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358-2359). Understood as discernment, however, in Amoris Laetita is that people in an irregular relationship be led to understand the truth about their relationship (AL 300). In sum, that they be able to understand that their relationship is contrary to the order of God’s creation and, hence, is morally unacceptable. Integration means to give people in an irregular situation — in so far as possible — a place in the life of the Church. Needless to say, people in a sexual relationship with a person of the same sex are welcome in ecclesiastical celebrations, although they cannot go to Communion or take part actively in the celebration.
The Flemish Bishops’ statement on the blessing of same sex couples meets with several inherent objections:
- Blessings are sacramentals, not Sacraments. The Flemish Bishops also state explicitly that the blessing of same sex couples is not a marriage. Sacramentals, instead, are sacred signs that are like the Sacraments in a certain sense and which bear particularly spiritual fruits in the people that receive the blessings, preparing them to receive the principal effect of the Sacraments. Sacramentals also sanctify particular situations of life (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a doubt on the blessing of same sex unions, February 22, 2021). Sacramentals are up to a certain point analogous to the Sacraments. The prayer of declaration, in which same sex couples commit themselves to one another, shows an unmistakable analogy with the “yes” that a man and a woman say to each other during the marriage ceremony. In it, in fact, the same sex couple prays: “We want to be for one another in all the circumstances of life . . . Give us the strength to continue being faithful to one another to deepen our commitment.” We also find this analogy with the “yes” of spouses in the marriage ceremony in the community prayer: “Make their mutual commitment strong and faithful.” Hence, the fear isn’t unfounded that the transition of this blessing to marriage between people of the same sex is not a great step and will be possible in the near future.
- A blessing does not only imply a good intention on the part of one who receives it. What is blessed must also correspond to God’s order of creation. God created marriage as a total and mutual gift of the man and the woman to one another, which culminates in procreation (Gaudium et Spes, No. 48; cf. No. 50). Sexual relations between same sex persons cannot in themselves lead to procreation. Hence, they cannot be an authentic expression on the corporal plane of the total self-giving of the man and woman, which marriage is essentially. Situations that are objectively evil from the moral point of view cannot be blessed. God’s grace does not shine on the path of sin. Spiritual fruit cannot be cultivated by blessing relations that are contrary to the order of God’s creation (Ibid.). This, of course, does not hinder homosexual individuals from receiving a blessing. However, it’s not morally permissible to bless a homosexual relationship as such.
- The arguments of points 1 and 2 are mentioned in the answers given by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on February 22, 2021, to a question on the blessing of homosexual relations. But, with their statement permitting the blessing of same sex couples, the Flemish Bishops go against the mentioned statement of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Flemish Bishops are also obliged to comply with it.
- In the prayer of the community on the occasion of the blessing of homosexual couples, said the Flemish Bishops, the community prays “so that God’s grace will act” in the gay couple and enable them to take care of each other mutually and the community in general. However, we cannot pray for God’s grace to act in a relationship that is not in keeping to His order of creation. The Flemish Bishops do not say explicitly that relations between same sex persons are justifiable. However, even the wording of the community prayer in their liturgical model for the blessing of homosexual couples suggests that relations between same sex persons can be morally justified. In fact, at the end, it states: “Give us the strength to walk with them together in the footprints of your Son and strengthened by the Spirit.” Do same sex people in their relationship with the same sex follow Christ’s steps? And, do the Flemish Bishops believe that in their relationship same sex couples follow Christ’s steps? In the prayer of the model, the gay couple says: “We want to live by your Word.” But the Word of God contained in the Scriptures qualifies unequivocally and undeniably homosexual relations as a sin. At least, in the formulation of model prayers for the gay couple and the community, the risk is run that the average Catholic, who in general knows very little about his faith today, lets himself be led on the evil way and begins to think that lasting and monogamous sexual relations between same sex people are morally acceptable.
- If homosexual couples with lasting and monogamous sexual relations can receive a blessing, should not the same thing be possible in the monogamous and lasting sexual relations of a man and a woman who live together without being married? To permit the blessing of homosexual couples poses the great risk of undermining blessings and the teaching of the Church on the morality of marriage and sexual ethics.
The Flemish Bishops’ statement, in which they permit same sex couples and even offer a liturgical model for it, meets with intrinsic ethical objections, radically contradicts a recent sentence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and poses the risk of leading Catholics to points of view on the morality of relations between same sex people that are contrary to the teaching of the Church. Hence, Catholics who accept the Doctrine of the Church, also in the matter of sexual morality, hope fervently that the Flemish Bishops may receive soon a petition from competent ecclesiastical circles to withdraw their statement and comply with it.
The author of the article is the Archbishop of Utrecht, Holland. Translation of the original by ZENIT.