Bishops in several African countries will not allow blessings for same-sex couples as opposition to a Vatican declaration continues to grow on the continent, but bishops globally remain heavily divided on implementation.

More than two weeks have passed since the Vatican issued a declaration that allows priests to provide same-sex couples with nonliturgical pastoral blessings. The rising division among the Church hierarchy led Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández to offer leeway to dissenting bishops who refuse to implement the document, saying “it’s proper for each local bishop to make that discernment.”

The declaration, Fiducia Supplicans, allows “spontaneous” pastoral blessings for “same-sex couples” and other couples in “irregular situations” but does not allow liturgical blessings, recognition of civil unions, or any actions that would make the blessings appear like a marriage.

Backlash to the declaration grows in Africa

Several national bishops’ conferences and individual bishops within Africa will not allow blessings for same-sex couples within their dioceses. 

Three of the first national bishops’ conferences in Africa to reject same-sex blessings within their countries were Malawi, Zambia, and Cameroon. Over the past two weeks, bishops’ conferences representing at least six other African countries joined them in their opposition: Ivory Coast, Togo, Rwanda, Angola, and Sao Tome.

“We cannot conceal the risk of confusion and scandal that the blessing of same-sex couples could generate within our local Church,” the Ivory Coast Episcopal Conference said in a statement.

The statement added that the bishops “reaffirm our attachment to the values of the family, of the sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman, as willed by God from the beginning” and asked priests “to refrain from blessing same-sex couples and couples in irregular situations.” 

A statement from the Conference of Bishops of Togo similarly told its clergy: “As regards the blessing of homosexual couples, the bishops of Togo direct priests to refrain from doing this.”

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The Episcopal Conference of Rwanda directed priests to not provide blessings to same-sex couples, cautioning that such blessings could be confused with marriage.

A statement from the Episcopal Conference of Angola and Sao Tome also directed priests to not bless same-sex couples, warning that it would cause scandal and confusion, according to MedAfrica Times.

“With regard to informal blessings for ‘irregular couples’ (homosexuals), although it is a sacrament different from the liturgical blessing, we consider that, in our cultural and ecclesial context, it would create a huge scandal and confusion among the faithful, so we have determined that it should not be carried out in Angola and São Tomé,” the statement read.

Although the bishops’ conference in Kenya did not outright forbid clergy from blessing same-sex couples, at least two bishops have done so. 

Bishop Paul Kariuki Njiru of the Diocese of Wote, Kenya, criticized the dicastery issuing the declaration for not widely consulting bishops before doing so. He added that the declaration “should be rejected in totality and we faithfully uphold the Gospel teachings and Catholic traditional teachings on marriage and sexuality.”

“Because the Church cannot ask God to bless sin, I hereby prohibit all priests in the Catholic Diocese of Wote from [the] blessing of couples in irregular situations or same-sex couples,” the bishop added, citing a previous Vatican declaration from 2021.

Another Kenyan bishop, Bishop Cleophas Oseso Tuka of the Diocese of Nakuru, said in a New Year’s message that “the blessings of the same-sex union fundamentally goes against what the Church teaches,” according to the Kenya-based Nation Media group

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Bishop Martin Mtumbuka of Karonga Diocese issued a strong condemnation of the document, alleging both heresy and blasphemy. 

“[It] looks to us like a heresy; it reads like a heresy; and its effects a heresy,” the bishop said

“We cannot allow such an offensive and apparently blasphemous declaration to be implemented in our dioceses,” Mtumbuka said and apologized to Catholics who have been “deeply hurt and scandalized by this declaration.”

The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar, which represents all of the bishops on the continent, has sent a letter to the bishops asking for their input on Fiducia Supplicans. The ecclesiastical body plans to “draw up a single synodal pronouncement, valid for the whole Church in Africa.”

Bishops elsewhere remain divided on the declaration

Church hierarchy around the world has continued to issue guidance on Fiducia Supplicans, but not all bishops are on the same page. Some bishops have welcomed the declaration, some are approaching it with caution, and others are refusing to implement it. 

The Hungarian Catholic Bishops Conference joined the bishops of several other Eastern and Central European countries in rejecting any blessings for same-sex couples: “[W]e can bless all individuals regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, but we must always avoid giving a common blessing to couples who live together in a mere relationship, or who are not in a valid marriage or same-sex relationship.”

Bishop János Székely of the Diocese of Szombathely reaffirmed that stance within his diocese, saying that such blessings would provide “the moral approval of the Church for their relationship and their life decision.”

“We would be falsifying the Gospel of Christ and failing to do what we should do as pastors toward such a couple if we were to give a blessing to the two of them in such a case,” the bishop added.

Bishop Adair José Guimarães of the Diocese of Formosa, Brazil, announced that he would not implement the declaration in his diocese after consulting lay Catholics and priests. He said the priests who responded “were practically unanimous that these applications would bring misunderstanding and scandal” and concluded that “our diocese is not in a position to apply these suggestions.”

Bishop Rafael Escudero López-Brea of the Territorial Prelature of Moyobamba in Peru ordered priests “not to carry out any form of blessing for couples in an irregular situation or for same-sex couples.”

The Polish Episcopal Conference similarly rejected any same-sex blessings within Poland, and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church stated that the declaration does not apply to Eastern Catholic churches.

Bishop Marc Aillet of the Diocese of Bayonne, France, raised concerns about blessing the “couple,” as permitted in the declaration, rather than simply blessing “two individual people,” warning that it seems to “endorse the homosexual activity which links them.”

For this reason, the bishop will permit his priests to bless persons individually, rather than bless the couple: “I invite them, if people ask, to give them a blessing, provided that it is to each person individually, calling them to conversion and inviting them to ask for the help of the grace that the Lord grants to all those who ask him to conform their lives to the will of God.”

This approach is different from Archbishop Hervé Giraud of the Archdiocese of Sens and Auxerre in France, who embraced the blessings of same-sex couples and indicated that he may perform some himself: “I believe it’s based on a beautiful idea of blessing, according to the Gospel and the style of Christ.”

Bishop José Antonio Satué of the Diocese of Teruel and Albarracín in Spain clarified that blessings for same-sex couples also embraced the declaration. “The declaration of the Holy See helps us appreciate the attitude of those who approach the Church requesting a blessing,” the bishop said.

Archbishop Mate Uzinić of the Archdiocese of Rijeka in Croatia is another European bishop who praised the declaration. “The statement is a call not to throw stones but to be close to those who seek God’s closeness,” he said.

The heads of the bishops’ conferences in both Austria and Germany also strongly embraced the blessings of same-sex couples. 

Similarly, the document received support from the Diocese of Hong Kong: “The pastoral blessings to those who yearn for God’s mercy and long to entrust their lives into his hands are meant to help them to live fully [according] to his will and to lead them to salvation. This has always been the way that God leads mankind to salvation.”

In the pope’s native country of Argentina, Episcopal Conference President Bishop Oscar Ojea also spoke positively of the declaration, saying it “does not give rise to confusion” and that confusing the blessing with approval or permission “would be reductionism.” 

“Living in an irregular situation or carrying out a homosexual union does not obscure many aspects of the lives of people who seek to be enlightened with a blessing and upon receiving it, this becomes the greatest possible good for these brothers since it leads to conversion,” the bishop said.

More American bishops have also noted that the blessings should not be confused with approval of homosexual activities. 

“That doesn’t mean we approve,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York said in a Christmas message on Fox 5 New York

“That doesn’t mean that a part of the blessing isn’t a call to conversion of heart and to live our lives in conformity to the revelation of God,” the cardinal said. “But it’s a good thing to remind us that we’re all in God’s embrace.”