Supporters of the Pope’s stance say a more compassionate church is not at odds with the God the church claims to serve.
The Vatican announced Monday that Pope Francis will now allow priests to bless same-sex couples, furthering his vision to make the church more pastoral and less rigid. It’s a call to bless the sinner but not the sin.
In the Catholic church, a blessing comes under the category of sacramentals. A sacrament is a special prayer, action or object which, through the prayers of the church, prepares a person to receive grace and to better cooperate with it.
“Now they make some kind of distinction saying this isn't a marriage, and of course it's not because two men can't marry each other," Rev. Gerald Murray, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in New York City, told the Washington Watch program Monday.
Murray, a Brooklyn native, has led Holy Family Church since 2012. He was ordained a priest in 1984.
"What the church is now saying is that the fact that they are living in sin without repentance is not an obstacle for the church to have some form of blessing given to them in public,” Murray said. "The document may say that this doesn't legitimize the relationship but I don't know how anybody else could - how anybody can say that seriously."
The reason people come to a Catholic church to receive a blessing, he pointed out, is for the priest to assure them God is okay with what they are doing.
"Well, that's the message you give when two people (of same sex) come together and then seek a blessing," he said. "So I'm very disturbed by this.”
Michael Hichborn, of the LePanto Institute, tells AFN the issue for Catholics is over the purpose of a blessing in the Catholic Church.
"A blessing, which comes from a priest, is the imposition of graces from God for an individual for the purpose of their salvation," he explains. "You can't bless a situation or an individual who is intending to do evil."
In a same-sex blessing, Hichborn likens it to a priest blessing an abortion doctor and his abortion tools, but not the abortion itself.
Vatican: Hey, let’s redefine blessing
Writing in the Vatican’s official declaration, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, the head of the church’s office on doctrine, widened the scope of blessing from its traditional understanding.
Because this new blessing is intended to extend by priests in a more private, less formal setting – not as a liturgical rite or blessing – there is no conflict with traditional teachings, Fernandez writes.
This new policy is based on Pope Francis’ vision for the church.
In the declaration, Fernandez writes:
This Declaration remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion. The value of this document, however, is that it offers a specific and innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings, permitting a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding of blessings, which is closely linked to a liturgical perspective. Such theological reflection, based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis, implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts of the Church.
Murray says he is not persuaded.
“This really is a very bad document and it's going to cause immense grief and sorrow in the Catholic Church, not only in the U. S. but throughout the world,” he told show host Jody Hice.
Among defenders of Pope Francis is Lila Rose, the pro-life activist who leads Live Action. In a tweet, she said the Pope has not approved blessings for same-sex sexual relationships, and she blamed misleading media outlets for being confused or for intentionally misleading others and causing confusion.
"Blessings have always been freely given to every person- and never given to sin," she wrote.
Many others disagreed with Rose, however, and several posted a key portion of the Vatican document that states "blessings for couples."
Geraci: This isn’t just about Catholics
The disagreements among Catholics are unfortunate, but the greater concern is that the Pope’s position is another example of a slide away from Christ’s teachings on appropriate sexual expression for the Christian community at large, a longtime protestant pastor says.
“Freedom, by its very nature, can't be just simply the freedom to express yourself any way you want, but imagine if you have a biblical worldview, it's the freedom to honor and obey God. Is there a type of freedom that says, I don't want to honor God or obey God?" Gino Geraci, pastor emeritus at Calvary Chapel South Denver, said on American Family Radio Tuesday.
"Clearly there's a growing appetite, even among so-called Christians, to allow sexual expression, no matter how perverse, no matter how wicked, no matter how unlawful," he continued.
Geraci said the Pope’s stance will be confusing to other people groups within the Catholic church.
“I think it's indicative of their ever-increasing slide towards a moral disconnect. Imagine if you are a divorced woman who has broken the rules of the church. If you go to a mass you can't receive the sacraments if you're divorced (and re-married) or if you are a Protestant or if you're a person who doesn't subscribe to Roman Catholicism, with the expectation that you can receive a blessing,” Geraci told show host Jenna Ellis.
Back on the "Washington Watch" program, Murray said the Catholic Church has never before authorized this blessing for two homosexuals or people in an “invalid second marriage.”
“The teaching of the church cannot change, but pastors of the church can act in a way that undermines that teaching. That’s is what’s going on here,” Murray said. “This is the quandry and dilemma that’s being imposed on the church by this Papal document. Quite frankly, no Pope in history has ever suggested that this is the way the church should act.”
Too much freedom for priests
The freedom of interpretation for a church so structured around the leadership of the Pope is the document’s biggest problem, Washington Stand writer S.A. McCarthy said.
“A lot of what the document specifically states does not contradict Catholic Church teaching, but it does open up the opportunity for priests and bishops who are pushing an agenda left wing LGBT agenda to essentially abuse this explicitly unregulated system that the Pope has just laid out. The definition of what these non-liturgical blessings should look like is left up to the discretion of the priests,” he said.
The door is now open wide, the writer warned, for activist priests to engage their beliefs at a higher level.
“We've already seen, especially in Germany, bishops and priests who have gone ahead and defied the Pope outright with blessing same sex unions, not just the individuals and praying for them and for their salvation, but blessing the unions themselves.
“If they're willing to defy the pope outright in 2021, 2022, they're going to do it again in 2023. They're just going to continue undermining church doctrine. Unfortunately, now they have something to point to that they can claim as cover,” McCarthy said.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments from Michael Hichborn.