OPINION: Vatican ban on blessing LGBT couples has backfired

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The Catholic Church’s ban on priests blessing same-sex unions only showed how LGBT+ Catholics are increasingly loved and accepted by their communities.

If the Vatican’s hope in issuing a ban on blessing same-sex couples was to quash the conversation on this topic, then church leaders very much misjudged how Catholics would respond.

Waking to the news on Monday morning, I noticed first the pain being expressed in group chats and on social media. While LGBT+ Catholics may be accustomed to negative messages from church leaders, about our identities and our relationships, they sting nonetheless each time. My Twitter feed was filled with LGBT+ Catholics expressing their dismay at once again being told our love is disordered and sinful.

But even as we shared our pain, I noticed, too, something ultimately more powerful happening; these same spaces were lit up with messages of affirmation, from LGBT+ Catholics to one another, and from allies in faith and in the LGBT+ community.

The truth is that, even though the Vatican says stop talking, Catholics will not. We know better than to condemn love when we see it.

More than not condemning, we are celebrating LGBT+ relationships. In a decade of pastoral ministry, and as a bisexual Catholic, I have witnessed just how deeply LGBT+ people’s relationships are signs of God’s abiding love.

My organization, New Ways Ministry, has documented both the ways local parishes affirm this truth, and the church leaders who speak positively, even if imperfectly, about such love.

Some priests bless same-sex couples. In 2019, Fr. Michael Kopp celebrated a ‘liturgy of thanksgiving’ for a lesbian couple entering a civil marriage, an event positively acknowledged by the priest’s diocese in Austria.

Many other priests do so quietly, but with no less validity. And at least half a dozen bishops in Germany support the church offering such blessings to same-sex couples, which is perhaps why the Vatican intervened now.

In the absence of priests, other faithful Catholics step in to assure such couples that even if the institution has failed them, the wider church recognizes [LGBT] love as holy. We affirm that LGBT+ people exhibit the same commitment and self-giving in relationships as their heterosexual counterparts.

It seems church leaders have yet to learn a simple lesson; you cannot just order the faithful to stop conversing about a disputed topic.

This approach did not work with birth control in the 1960s, nor with the discussion over women priests in the 1990s, and it will not work now. Therefore, the Vatican’s statement this past Monday is a setback, not a conclusion.

It is telling that affirmation of LGBT+ people, not condemnation, marked so many Catholics’ reactions on Monday. Yes, we need to repair wounds inflicted by this latest statement. But instead of dwelling on its misguided logic, let us look towards Easter.

In a few weeks, Christians will celebrate once again the triumph of love over the world’s ills, a triumph proven by the empty tomb.

Let us live as people who believe Jesus Christ is risen, and that love prevails. Let us keep conversing, keep finding new ways to proclaim God’s presence in our world, and keep moving forward to equality.

And, as we do so, let us bless all forms of love, for as the gay Franciscan, Fr. Mychal Judge said:

“Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?”

-By Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry [via Thomson Reuters Foundation]

[All opinions are the writer’s own]

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