Cardinal Arinze explains why Belgian bishops can’t bless same-sex couples

Cardinal Francis Arinze Cardinal Francis Arinze. | Padre Mimmo Spatuzzi via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0).

The Belgian bishops’ introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples has drawn rebuke from Cardinal Francis Arinze, the former head of the Vatican’s liturgy office. 

The cardinal said Belgium’s bishops have taken an erroneous and pastorally flawed approach.

“Human beings have no power to change the order established by God the Creator,” Arinze said in a Sept. 24 message included in the email newsletter of Vatican journalist Robert Moynihan.

“Even if the aim is to be pastorally helpful to homosexual couples, this is an error on the part of the bishops,” Arinze said.

The Nigerian-born cardinal, now 89 years old, served as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship from 2002 to 2008. Even in retirement, the cardinal has responded to the Belgian Catholic bishops’ open defiance of the Vatican and Catholic teaching.

On Sept. 20 Belgium’s bishops announced the introduction of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in their dioceses. The bishops of Flanders also published a liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions for the Flemish-speaking parts of the bilingual country.

Arinze criticized the bishops’ statement, citing its title “Being pastorally close to homosexual persons: for a welcoming Church that excludes no one.”

The cardinal said their approach is not pastoral and ignores Catholic teaching.

“Holy Scripture presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity,” he said, adding that Church tradition, as represented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

“While persons with homosexual inclination are to be respected and not unjustly discriminated against, they, like every Christian and indeed every human being, are called to chastity,” Arinze said. He cited Christ’s words in Matthew 5:8: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

He also cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual persons are “called to chastity.”

“By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection,” says the Catechism, as quoted by Arinze.

The cardinal also referred to a recent statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Catholic Church’s doctrinal watchdog, though he did not go into detail.

The CDF addressed the question on March 15, 2021. The congregation said that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex relationships. The Vatican statement was issued with the approval of Pope Francis.

The CDF statement made clear that blessings can be given “to individual persons with homosexual inclinations, who manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

“(T)he Church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His pilgrim children in this world, because for Him ‘we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit,’” the congregation said. “But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact ‘takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are.’”

The CDF statement came amid an effort in the Church in Germany to push for blessings of same-sex unions. The statement sparked protests and open defiance in the German-speaking Catholic world. German priests and pastoral workers also openly defied the Vatican and conducted blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.

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LGBT advocates who believe Catholic teaching can and should change are active in the U.S.

In 2015, the American dissenting Catholic groups Dignity USA and New Ways Ministry called for the blessings of same-sex unions as marriages within the Church.

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