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Somewhere over the rainbow

Pope Francis approves blessings for same-sex couples


Pope Francis waves to reporters at the Vatican on Dec. 16. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Medichini

Somewhere over the rainbow

With Christmas just days away, the Vatican evidently thought it was high time to reverse 2,000 years of Christian tradition and allow priests to bless same-sex couples. The announcement came with the release of Fiducia Supplicans, a declaration from the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, approved by Pope Francis. In this case, the fingerprints of Pope Francis are all over the document. As a matter of fact, the document cites a desire to align the church with the pope’s “fatherly and pastoral approach.” That is unusual for such documents, but it accurately ties the doctrinal change to the pope’s personal agenda.

And, make no mistake, this is a major change. LGBTQ activists and Catholic authorities may disagree about the scope of the change, but this declaration only makes sense as a representation of Pope Francis’s agenda of liberalizing the church in the name of pastoral concern. That is the real meaning of this historic action, and that is why the headlines have been ricocheting around the globe. That is what the Vatican wanted, and that is what it got.

Just two years ago, the same Vatican body had stated that such blessings were impossible, given Catholic teaching. Back then, the Vatican had said that priestly blessings must “conform with the nature of sacramentals,” and that anything blessed must “be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God in creation.” Put bluntly, that definition was specifically aimed at excluding same-sex relationships. Such relationships, the Vatican said, are not “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family.”

But that was then, and this is now. The pope had been pushing the Catholic Church in this direction, now the teaching and doctrinal strictures of Catholicism have been changed. But, watch closely, that does not mean that Catholic priests may now perform same-sex marriages. The church’s definition of marriage has not been changed. The church has not officially changed its position on the sinfulness of homosexual acts. Instead, it basically severed the concept of a priestly blessing from the expectation of obedience and holiness. The Vatican just did what two years ago it said it could not do. It does this by sleight of hand. On the one hand, the document states that the Catholic Church “does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice.” On the other hand, priests are allowed to offer priestly blessings to same-sex couples so long as the ceremony or context does not look (exactly) like a wedding and the sacrament of marriage. The way the game is already played among some Catholics in Germany, only a slight change is made. No one is fooled. The pope knows exactly what is going on.

The document states that in the announced blessing “there is no intention to legitimize anything.” That is nonsense. The Vatican may make that claim with a straight face, but it is not honest. Those headlines trumpeting the Vatican announcement are all about legitimizing same-sex unions. The headline in The New York Times stated the case simply, and not inaccurately: “Pope Francis Allows Priests to Bless Same-Sex Couples.”

This new Vatican declaration is only possible because the Catholic Church claims an authority to develop doctrine—even beyond Scripture.

Evangelical Protestants may be tempted to think that the ripple effects from this Roman Catholic declaration will not change our own situation. That is true, insofar as evangelicals cannot bless same-sex unions, period. But the Vatican’s new policy does change the cultural situation in which we minister and operate. Those who hold to a clearly Biblical conviction on marriage, sexuality, and gender must realize that the cultural noose is tightening.

We must also keep in mind that this new Vatican declaration is only possible because the Catholic Church claims an authority to develop doctrine—even beyond Scripture. The declaration of the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary, declared by Pope Pius IX in 1854, may serve as the clearest example. It is not even claimed that the doctrine has a sound basis in the Bible. Rather, it is claimed that the pope has the authority to develop doctrine as led by the Holy Spirit. The Reformers’ insistence on sola Scriptura was a direct refutation of this logic.

This Vatican declaration is also possible only because of a claimed distinction between doctrine and pastoral practice. Evangelicals must reject this claim as well. We have absolutely no right to separate Biblical truth and pastoral ministry. We cannot counsel in contradiction to what we preach. We cannot bless what Scripture condemns.

Conservative Catholics in the United States and elsewhere have been bracing themselves for this kind of declaration from the Vatican. Sadly, here it is. This new doctrine and policy will not placate the liberals, who will not be satisfied until the Catholic Church affirms and priests perform same-sex marriages, and it will infuriate the conservatives who understand full well what is happening.

Evangelical Christians must respond by holding fast to Biblical truth, soberly, joyfully, seriously, and steadfastly.

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest like the current pope, has long been an activist for LGBTQ change in the Catholic Church. Yesterday, he tweeted this: “Re: Vatican declaration on same-sex blessings. Be wary of the ‘Nothing has changed’ response to today’s news. It’s a significant change. In short, yesterday, as a priest, I was forbidden to bless same-sex couples at all. Today, with some limitations, I can.”

He is absolutely right, and he knows it. God help us all.


R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Albert Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College and editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also the host of The Briefing and Thinking in Public. He is the author of several books, including The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. He is the seminary’s Centennial Professor of Christian Thought and a minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches.


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