Nine bishops from France have instructed priests in their dioceses that they may bless homosexual individuals but should refrain from blessing same-sex couples, following new Vatican guidelines that permit nonliturgical pastoral blessings of homosexual couples.

The Archdiocese of Rennes, which is led by Archbishop Pierre d’Ornellas, issued the statement on Jan. 1 on behalf of the bishops from the Ecclesiastical Province of Rennes.

“In our society where marriage has been trivialized by becoming a notion of civil law which ignores the founding specificity of sexual difference, we have the mission to affirm in a prophetic way,” the bishops said, “the great beauty of the design of God who created the human being, man and woman.” 

“In this context,” the statement continued, “it is therefore right, as the declaration underlines, not to contribute to creating ‘confusion’ (p. 4, 5, 30, 31, 39) or ‘scandal’ (p. 30, 39). This is why it is appropriate to bless spontaneously, individually, each of the two people forming a couple, whatever their sexual orientation, who ask God’s blessing with humility and with the desire to conform more and more to his holy will.”

The publication of the Vatican declaration Fiducia Supplicans has been the subject of conflicting interpretations, with some bishops in Africa and Eastern Europe banning the proposed blessings in their jurisdictions while others have characterized the document as an affirmation of their push for change. 

The French bishops asserted that Fiducia Supplicans does not mandate the blessing of homosexual couples but rather allows for their “possibility” depending on priests and bishops’ discernment that such blessings will not cause scandal or confusion about the Church’s position on marriage.

“The declaration thus indicates criteria for discernment: humility and the desire to accomplish God’s will,” the French bishops said. 

The bishops took issue with the declaration’s emphasis on allowing blessings for “couples.”

Fiducia Supplicans, they wrote, “does not explain the reasoning which moves it from ‘persons’ to ‘couples.’”

More in Europe

“The word ‘couple,’” the bishops said, “has a particular meaning which deserves explanation [from the Vatican].”

“More than in the past, in our secularized society which has lost understanding of the admirable significance of sexual difference, marriage is seen as a response to God’s call. It is a vocation,” they went on.

“Let us be happy to place ourselves with charity at the service of couples who are preparing for marriage or who are married. Let us carefully accompany those who struggle, those who forget or no longer know how to take care of their love,” the statement continued.

The bishops from Rennes said their decision to forbid blessings of homosexual couples is in line with the declaration’s instruction to avoid any confusion and scandal.

They cited an excerpt from Fiducia Supplicans that states that “rites and prayers which could create confusion between what constitutes marriage […] and what contradicts it are inadmissible.” 

They argued that the declaration “provides guidance so that confusion is avoided at all costs” and the “understanding of marriage, which is only between a man and a woman according to God’s design, is preserved.”

“The declaration makes an unambiguous discernment,” the bishops went on, quoting another portion of Fiducia Supplicans that says the ‘Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when it can, in a certain way, offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union which presents itself as a marriage or extramarital sexual practice.’”

(Story continues below)

“This clarifies the debates within certain local Churches, particularly European or American, which pit those who practice liturgical blessings of same-sex couples against those who forbid it,” the bishops said. “Indeed, for the liturgical blessing to be given, ‘it must be ensured that things, places, or events are not contrary to the law or the spirit of the Gospel.’”

The statement was signed by d’Ornellas, head of the ecclesiastical province, as well as Bishop Raymond Centène of Vannes, Bishop Emmanuel Delmas of Angers, Bishop Laurent Dognin of Quimper, Bishop François Jacolin of Luçon, Bishop Denis Moutel of Saint-Brieuc, Bishop Laurent Percerou of Nantes, Bishop Jean-Pierre Vuillemin of Le Mans, Auxiliary Bishop Jean Bondu of Rennes, and Father Frédéric Foucher, diocesan administrator of Laval.