Blessings: A pastoral development anchored in tradition
By Rocco Buttiglione
The Declaration “Fiducia supplicans” on the pastoral meaning of blessings of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith marks an authentic pastoral development solidly anchored in Church tradition and its moral theology. The Dicastery's Cardinal Prefect, Víctor Manuel Fernández, wisely prefaces the Declaration with a brief presentation in which he explains, among other things, what the Declaration is not: it is not a green light to gay marriage, and it is not a change in Church doctrine regarding sexual relations outside of marriage as always a serious matter of sin. So it changes nothing, then? No, it changes a lot; it is almost a revolution. In the Church’s history, however, every authentic revolution is also simultaneously a return to the origins, the missionary presence of Christ in human history.
The starting point of the reality the Declaration has in mind is that of a couple in an "irregular" situation asking for a blessing. To avoid any misunderstanding, let us imagine that they ask not a priest but their parents. Would you give this blessing? I would give it. I would not bless the irregular sexual relationship. Still, I would bless the care they have for one another, the support they give each other in life, the comfort during times of grief, and the companionship in the face of difficulties. Love is never wrong; sexual relations, on the other hand, sometimes are. In the life of this couple, the good and the bad are so closely intertwined that it is not possible to separate them with a clean break. If a daughter of mine were in such a situation I would bless her and certainly pray to God that in the journey of life, He might separate the good from the bad in that relationship by making it a step on the path to truth. God writes straight with crooked lines. I think any father would do the same thing and I don't see how a priest, if he has a father's heart for the members of his community, could do any different.
Of course, there is the danger of scandal. There is the danger that in God's faithful people the poorest and weakest will be misled and will no longer understand what marriage is and why sex outside of marriage is wrong. This is a real problem and one that should not be underestimated. And this is precisely why Cardinal Fernández felt the need to make his preliminary remarks. Of course, it would be easier to come to terms with this problem if there were no commentators who instead of offering clarification sow confusion and distrust. If all the sheep in the fold were safe, the shepherd would merely defend against the wolves at the door of the fold. But if many are outside and lost, then he has to go looking for them, and this involves risks and dangers. The Declaration is a response to a specific pastoral urgency of our time.
Those who ask for a blessing, in the case we are considering here, know that they are doing something that the Church does not approve of and indeed forbids. However, the Church wants to affirm a bond, a belonging. A rebellious belonging but a belonging nonetheless. Will the Church extinguish this smouldering lamplight or keep it alive, whatever is possible?
When I was young (perhaps around half a century ago) it was impossible to imagine this situation. Homosexuals were not demanding marriage; they did not want to marry. They saw marriage and monogamy as forms of oppression by bourgeois society and demanded free sex and the separation of sex and love. Or better: they thought sex was real and love only an illusion. A rethinking within the homosexual movements began perhaps when AIDS appeared (monogamy is the best defence against AIDS) but has since gone far beyond that. Sex is not simply pleasurable gymnastics: it has a natural tendency to deeply involve the person, it needs to be regulated, to take place in a normative context. For some years we have been witnessing a tentative search for a “re-regulation” of sexual relations, a rethinking of sex within a personal relationship, and even a rediscovery of love. It is in this context that the question of gay marriage also arises, unacceptable in itself (as Cardinal Fernández confirms) but an indicator of a discomfort and a search, to which the Church must give an adequate response.
During the synod, the concern of various national churches emerged in confronting these issues. There was a tense confrontation in which each one freely set out his or her reasons and efforts, beyond different ideological positions, to listen to the Spirit and discern what comes from Him and what instead comes from the Evil One. This Declaration offers a first response, at once in line with tradition and open to the new.
Rocco Buttiglione is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. He has published twelve books and more than 130 scholarly essays on philosophy and culture. He teaches political science at Saint Pius V University in Rome. He has served in Italy's parliament and as a Minister for European Affairs and Minister of Culture.
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