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Faith and reason, same-sex relationships and blessings

  • 06 April 2021
In 1998, Pope John Paul II, a philosopher as well as a theologian, promulgated an encyclical entitled Fides et Ratio (‘Faith and Reason’). It had appeal to me because our very wise Jesuit moral theology professor always drummed into us that any pronouncements on moral theology from Rome must appeal to reason as well as to tradition and authority. Otherwise, they will have no currency with the people of God.

The opening line of John Paul’s encyclical is memorable: ‘Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.’

The recent pronouncement by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) on the blessing of same-sex unions certainly had people assessing its reasonableness as a so-called ‘deposit of faith’.

In our Parliament, we are familiar with ‘questions without notice’. These are raised to challenge a minister, or to give one’s own minister an opportunity to engage in some virtue signalling. So the Roman Congregation often raises a hypothetical question, a dubium, (proposed by anyone or no one) and then answers it with a responsum. In this case the question was: Does the Church have the power to give a blessing to unions of persons of the same sex? And it answered, not unexpectedly, in the negative.

The question, suggested the Congregation, has arisen from the pastoral practice of some priests blessing the civil unions of same-sex couples. This is currently not uncommon.

'If I bless a person, it is a prayer that they will share God’s life, God’s grace, and advance the kingdom in all they do.'

The Congregation indicated that a blessing is a sacramental  (something less than a sacrament) and when conferred ‘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.’ A rather complex definition of a blessing.

Originally, things were blessed when they were marked out to be put to God’s service. In the Jewish tradition, for example, objects for use in Temple worship were so blessed and dedicated for such service. If I am asked to bless a house or a car, I stress that the action is not a superstition or a spiritual insurance policy. It is a prayer that the house or car will be used for the advancement of God’s Kingdom here and now, and that