by Fulvio Ferrario. Professor of Systematic Theology and Dean of the Waldensian Theological Faculty in Rome.
The Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 22 February, made public in mid-March, reiterated that – for the Catholic Church – it is not permissible to bless forms of union other than marriage. The Congregation also recalls that there are no analogies, “not even remote,” between homosexual unions and marriage.
There is nothing new in the Vatican. It is not permissible to bless forms of union other than marriage. In fact, according to Roman doctrine, the blessing constitutes a “sacrament,” that is, a rite that can only concern intrinsically “good” situations. Since unions outside marriage are not “good” in this way, they cannot be legitimized, by means of a rite. This applies to same-sex unions, but also to straight ones between unmarried people.
The Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 22 February, made public in mid-March, specifies that this decision does not constitute “unjust discrimination”; that blessings to people (including homosexuals, but who behave according to the indications of the Catholic Church) remain possible, that God blesses his children in any case. In short, there is no restricted economy of blessings, neither in heaven nor on earth, but not for unmarried couples.
The pontiff himself had at the time declared, as the Congregation now remembers, that there are no analogies, “not even remote,” between homosexual unions and marriage (see Amoris Laetitia, n. 251). For heterosexual unions, it seems to be possible to say that there is some analogy, at least “remote”—but in fact, it is not enough.
As of this writing, I still don’t have a review of the responses, but it’s not hard to imagine what they say. In the Catholic Church, the Right will be relieved: thank goodness that at least a few “i’s” will be dotted and a few “t’s” will be crossed. The Center will explain that it is a gesture of mercy, which avoids dangerous confusions, without marginalizing anyone. The Center-Left will say that, even if it does not seem so at first sight, it is actually an important first step toward bringing this conflict into conversation; such a promising development is made possible, of course, by the springtime of the Spirit inaugurated by Pope Francis’s papacy.
What was the previous winter, and who was responsible? This usually remains unclear: those who ask for information mostly receive, as an answer, an accomplice’s smile indicating that “we understand each other.” Finally, there is the “Extreme Left,” which calls for a decisive change of course (a “reform”)—for a less monarchical, synodal Church, which ordains both women and men to the ministry and which adapts to diverse ethical challenges of the time. If you say that this already exists and is called Protestantism, the far-Left Catholic gets angry.
Yes, Protestantism. In fact, on the point touched upon by the Congregation, the “classical” Protestant Churches, in particular those from the Global North, are completely isolated.
The Orthodox Christian world, in fact, is even more radical than Rome and in some cases even supports the policed repression of homosexuals (out of “love,” of course, as a fraternal invitation to conversion); the Pentecostal and, more generally, evangelical, tends to think the same way.
All together they recall in a loud voice that even the Church of the past, eminently including the Protestant one, is unanimous on the subject. Try being gay friendly in Calvino’s Geneva! It is the Protestants of today, they say, who have sold themselves to the “Spirit of the times.”
They support an argument exactly opposite to that of Amoris Laetitia: they assert that between homosexual unions, hetero unions other than marriage, and marriage itself, there are significant elements of analogy. The Church of the past did not see them, just as it did not see, for example, the moral problematic nature of slavery.
It is not, of course, a question of putting past generations on trial, but of asking ourselves how to testify today to the liberating message of the Gospel.
The great majority of Christian Churches believe that upholding the traditional framework does a good service in this direction and that the poisoned fruits of discrimination are accidents along the way that do not undermine the principle of their argument: that the exercise of sexuality is morally constructive only within the bonds of marriage.
The classical Protestant churches develop a different discourse. Luther, Calvin, Bonhoeffer did not do it: but it was also their reflection and their testimony that made it possible today.