Diocese: Priest’s omission of palm blessing in protest over Vatican ruling ‘reprehensible’

grant whitty OCv3LRfEylA unsplash A priest holds palms on Palm Sunday./ Grant Whitty via Unsplash.

A Catholic diocese in Italy has described a priest’s refusal to bless palms on Sunday because of the Vatican’s rejection of blessings for same-sex unions as “reprehensible.”

The Diocese of Spezia-Sarzana-Brugnato said that the matter was being addressed according to Church norms.

Fr. Giulio Mignani, a priest in the north-western Italian diocese, made headlines after he refused to bless palm branches at a Palm Sunday Mass in protest of the Vatican’s document clarifying that the Catholic Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions.

The document, a “responsum ad dubium,” was issued with Pope Francis’ approval by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on March 15. The CDF explained its reasoning in a note and accompanying commentary.

The 50-year-old Mignani, pastor of Santa Caterina Parish in Bonassola, said during his homily March 28, “if I can’t bless same-sex couples, then I won’t bless palms and olive branches either,” according to local newspaper La Nazione.

The diocese condemned Mignani’s actions in a March 29 press release, which said that “the matter is being assessed in the appropriate forums, in accordance with current canonical norms.”

The diocesan called it “reprehensible to omit or perform a liturgical gesture by linking it to a personal protest,” and even more so if directed against a declaration by the CDF published with the consent of the pope.

In its statement, the diocese also invited people to carefully read the entire CDF responsum, which “expresses in an understandable way, with respect, composure and truth, why the Church does not possess, and cannot possess, the power to bless such unions.”

“In spite of various interventions made personally by the Bishop in recent years and the statements issued to reiterate the official position of the Church to the faithful, in the face of Fr. Giulio Mignani’s remarks on matters of faith and morals, it is with sorrow that we must note what occurred again last Palm Sunday in the parishes entrusted to him,” the diocese said.

The Corriere della Sera reported that Mignani had decided some time before not to hold the traditional procession at the beginning of Palm Sunday Mass in order to follow COVID-19 safety norms, and therefore he thought it did not make sense to bless the palms and olive branches.

The priest added that after reflecting on the value of blessings, he decided to not bless the palms also in protest of the CDF responsum.

“Has the Church blessed everything, even weapons, and now we say no to love?” he told the Italian daily newspaper.

The diocese said in its statement that following COVID-19 regulations would not have presented an obstacle to blessing the palms according to the liturgical norms in force, which also allow the priest to process alone from one location in the church to the altar.

According to Italian media, Fr. Mignani has a history of public actions in support of same-sex unions, including attending the civil union of two men in his town in 2016.

Referring to that event, Mignani told Il Corriere della Sera this week that “I have a public role and I wanted to say, ‘I’m with them.’”

Mignani also said that after that occasion, and on others, he has been called into meetings with his bishop, Luigi Ernesto Palletti.

The bishop “invited me to reflect,” Mignani said. “But I’ve been doing it all my life. And the more I think, the more convinced I am.”

More in Europe

The Vatican’s statement on same-sex blessings has also elicited strong responses from bishops in Austria and Germany.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said Sunday that the Vatican’s rejection of blessings for same-sex couples was marked by a “clear communication error.”

Renewing his earlier criticism of the intervention by the CDF, he told the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation March 28 that he was concerned by both the timing and form of the ruling.

“I wasn’t happy -- neither about the timing nor about the way in which communication was being made,” he said.

German bishops who have spoken in favor of blessing same-sex couples include Bishop Georg Bätzing, president of the German bishops’ conference, Munich Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabrück, Bishop Helmut Dieser of Aachen, Bishop Peter Kohlgraf of Mainz, and Bishop Heinrich Timmerevers of Dresden-Meissen.

Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen said March 29 that he would not take disciplinary action against priests who blessed same-sex couples.

But other German bishops have welcomed the Vatican’s clarification, including Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, Bishop Stephan Burger of Freiburg, Bishop Ulrich Neymeyer of Erfurt, Bishop Gregor Maria Hanke of Eichstätt, Bishop Wolfgang Ipolt of Görlitz, Bishop Stefan Oster of Passau, and Bishop Rudolf Voderholzer of Regensburg.

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Mignani said he thought that the CDF’s document “wanted to respond and stop positions already expressed in the German and Austrian Church…”

In the Corriere della Sera interview, the priest also referenced “very strong declarations” from Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp, in Belgium, and said that “the bishop of Chicago even took sides,” a reference to a March 15 statement by Cardinal Blase Cupich.