Heidi Schlumpf is executive editor of the National Catholic Reporter. The views expressed in this commentary are hers. View more opinion articles on CNN.
(CNN)Catholic priests bless the sick, students and teachers, prison inmates, new buildings, cars and even guns and warships. What they cannot bless, according to a new directive from the Vatican, is a same-sex couple who has gotten married.
The news from the Vatican Monday morning was painful and disheartening for LGBTQ Catholics, their families and those who love and support them. The continued use of the language of “sin” and “objectively ordered” or “disordered” when referencing LGBTQ Catholics was especially harsh and cruel.
Perhaps the church should take the advice of parents around the world: “If you can’t say anything nice, it’s better to not say anything at all.”
In the US, where some 61% of Catholics approve of gay marriage, according to the Pew Research Center, LGBTQ Catholic groups reacted with disappointment and anger, if not surprise. New Ways Ministry called the decision “an impotent one” and noted that “God has already blessed these unions.”
The Vatican’s directive — that people with “homosexual inclinations” can be blessed — but only if they agree not to have sex — isn’t cutting it with most US Catholics.
“This is a version of the old tried-and-true ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’ mentality that shows up not only in Roman Catholicism but in other Christian denominations,” Fordham University theology professor Patrick Hornbeck told the National Catholic Reporter.
The ruling, released March 15 — technically an answer to a question posed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s orthodoxy office — was approved by Pope Francis.
But wait — didn’t the pope just indicate that civil unions were a good thing in a soon-to-be-released documentary? Didn’t he famously say, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about how he would treat a homosexual person in confession? Didn’t he tell sex abuse survivor Juan Carlos Cruz that “it doesn’t matter that you are gay. God made you that way and he loves you the way you are, and it doesn’t matter to me”?
Yes, yes and yes. That’s all part of Pope Francis’ more pastoral style. In the eight years of his papacy, Francis has talked about and modeled more openness to LGBTQ people than his predecessors. He sends signs and makes baby steps.
But when it comes to actually changing church teaching. Not so much.
That can be confusing and cause a sense of whiplash, as everyday Catholics go from celebrating positive words on civil unions one day to lamenting a crackdown on blessings on another.
One possible explanation about the recent CDF document is that this question was likely posed by some more conservative church leaders concerned about a process happening with the church in Germany, where bishops have “signaled their openness to such blessings, in preparation for the upcoming synod in their country,” tweeted Jesuit Fr. James Martin, who writes about and advocate for more openness to LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church.
Already, the response from Germany to the CDF document, according to Bishop Georg Bätzing, head of German bishops’ conference, is that they’re “not happy.”
Neither are most US Catholics. While Pope Francis’ baby steps are appreciated, it’s time to take some giant steps. It is my fervent hope that the church will not only one day bless same-sex couples, but acknowledge the sacramentality of their marriages. The pope has the power to do so; he is the pope, after all.