Cardinal Hollerich: Church blessings for same-sex unions not a settled matter

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J. Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., Archbishop of Luxembourg, speaks at a Vatican press conference, Aug. 26, 2022 | Vatican News YouTube Channel

In an interview with Vatican media, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., said he believes Church blessings for same-sex unions, which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ruled against, is not a settled matter.

The cardinal’s answer came in response to an interview question about the decision last month by Belgium’s Catholic bishops to support the possibility of blessings for unions of same-sex couples — in defiance of the Vatican.

“Frankly, the question does not seem decisive to me,” Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg, told L’Osservatore Romano in an interview also published on Vatican News Oct. 24.

The Vatican’s doctrine office weighed in on the issue in March 2021, clarifying that the Church does not have the power to bless the unions of same-sex couples.

In defiance of this declaration, Catholic bishops in Belgium published Sept. 20 a text for blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples in their dioceses. The bishops of Flanders — the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium — also published a liturgy for the celebration of homosexual unions.

In the interview, Cardinal Hollerich pointed to the etymology of the Italian words for “to bless” and “to curse”: benedire and maledire.

“If we stay with the etymology of ‘bene-dire,’ [‘say good’] do you think God could ever ‘dire-male’ [say bad] about two people who love each other?” Hollerich said.

“I would be more interested in discussing other aspects of the problem,” he continued. “For example: what is the conspicuous growth of homosexual orientation in society driven by? Or why is the percentage of homosexuals in ecclesial institutions higher than in civil society?”

The cardinal did not cite any source for the claim that there are more people with same-sex orientation in Church institutions than in civil society.

Hollerich is also president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union and relator general of the Synod on Synodality.

The cardinal specified that he does not think “there is room for a sacramental marriage between persons of the same sex,” because same-sex unions lack the procreative character of marriage.

“But that does not mean that their affective relationship has no value,” he added.

“Pope Francis often recalls the need for theology to be able to originate and develop from human experience, and not remain the fruit of academic elaboration alone,” he said. “Then, so many of our brothers and sisters tell us that, whatever the origin and cause of their sexual orientation, they certainly did not choose it. They are not ‘bad apples.’ They are also fruits of creation.”

The archbishop of Luxembourg also said he has a lot of contact with young people in his ministry, and “for young people today, the highest value is nondiscrimination.”

“[What] I constantly see is that young people stop considering the Gospel, if they have the impression that we are discriminating,” he said, recalling a recent encounter with a woman in her 20s who said she wanted to leave the Church because it does not welcome homosexual couples.

“I asked her ‘do you feel discriminated against because you are homosexual?’ and she said ‘No, no! I am not a lesbian, but my closest friend is. I know her suffering, and I don’t intend to be part of those who judge her.’ That made me think a lot,” Hollerich said.

“Everyone is called. No one is excluded: even the divorced and remarried, even homosexuals, everyone. The kingdom of God is not an exclusive club. It opens its doors to everyone, without discrimination,” the cardinal said. 

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“Sometimes in the Church the accessibility of these groups to the kingdom of God is discussed. And this creates the perception of exclusion in a part of the people of God. They feel excluded and this is not just! Here it is not a question of theological subtleties or ethical dissertations: here it is simply a matter of affirming that the message of Christ is for everyone!”

In 2021, answering the question “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith responded, “negative.”

Blessings are sacramentals, the Vatican explained, and “when a blessing is invoked on particular human relationships, in addition to the right intention of those who participate, it is necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord.”

However, basing their argument on Amoris laetitia, Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Cardinal Jozef De Kesel of Mechelen-Brussels and other bishops of the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium on Sept. 20 published a document titled “Being pastorally close to homosexual persons — for a welcoming Church that excludes no one.” 

The bishops of Belgium will meet with Pope Francis and other Vatican officials, including the head of the doctrine office, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, at the end of November.

Postponed several times, this meeting, known as an ad limina, will be the Belgian bishops’ first since 2010.

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