Pope Francis Wants a Welcoming Church

Pope Francis Wants a Welcoming Church December 22, 2023

Pope Francis wants a welcoming Church. But he did not just change the Catholic doctrine on same-sex unions.

Much confusion surrounds the latest declaration from the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith. A declaration sets a truth as something firmly taught. It emanates from the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, so it has to be important. Often, such documents would have at least one degree of separation from the Holy Father. In this case, however, due to the meeting with Cardinal Fernández, Pope Francis lends his own authority to the document.

Pope Francis Wants a Welcoming Church

Why does he publish the document? Bishop Barron has stated eloquently that it goes very much in line with the pastoral priorities of Pope Francis.

The blessings that it allows for those in irregular relationships are not liturgical in nature and hence do not imply any approbation of such relationships. Rather, these benedictions are informal and spontaneous, designed to call upon God’s mercy to heal, guide, and strengthen. Despite some misleading coverage in the press, the declaration does not constitute a ‘step’ toward ratification of same-sex marriage nor a compromising of the Church’s teaching regarding those in irregular relationships. (Bishop Barron, USCCB)

The Pope wants people to feel part of the Church, even if their behaviors do not line up with doctrine. In the midst of so much confusion, the document actually re-affirms traditional Catholic doctrine. Marriage is between a man and a woman. No other type of pairing can purport to be of the same nature.

What does the document do?

It lays out the strategy that Pope Francis would like to have the Church’s pastors use to reach out to those in irregular unions. It is not an entirely new innovation, as many pastors have pointed out. When a member of the faithful comes up after mass to ask for a blessing, I do not go through a litany of questions to examine whether or not he or she conforms to all of Catholic doctrine.

Pope Francis wants a welcoming Church
Pope Francis waves to the crowd | Courtesy of Cathopic

What does the document not do?

The document does not change Catholic doctrine. Sexual relations are something so special and created by God to be exclusive between a man and woman in the context of marriage. Nothing has changed on this front. The document does not encourage formal blessings of unwed couples, be they homosexual or straight.

Why is there so much confusion?

The news media have jumped all over this. Many news outlets have celebrated a change in Catholic doctrine. Many have reported that the Church now sanctions the blessing of same-sex unions. They fail to delve into the nuances of the meaning of blessing which is explored in the document.

When pastors celebrate the document as a monumental change, they contribute to the confusion. One noted speaker on behalf of greater acceptance of alternative lifestyles within the Catholic Church has hailed this as a step. When he puts out a news story of himself blessing a same-sex couple as a celebration of the declaration, he contributes to the confusion.

It seems hard to justify the action of such pastors, as it would appear to contradict the intention of the document. Blessings are to be spontaneous, part of prudent pastoral discernment for the particular couple. They should not present themselves as formal liturgies nor as a recognition of the union as such.

What does the document restrict?

The declaration restricts much of what has been considered pastoral action by some. Many priests who have been actively engaged in ministry towards Catholics with same-sex attraction have been going far beyond the limits placed in this document. Blessings should be spontaneous. Bishops’ conferences will not be establishing formal liturgies. They cannot give the impression that there is a formal recognition of the union by the Church.

Pope Francis wants a welcoming Church

One important conclusion is that Pope Francis is reminding us that no one is too far away to not receive God’s blessing. The priest’s hands and lips are consecrated to bless God’s people on God’s behalf. This is essential to the nature of the priest. The priest can bless the people, but cannot sanction the irregular union.

“Fiducia Supplicans is very much congruent with Pope Francis’s long-held conviction that those who do not live up to the full demand of the Church’s moral teaching are nevertheless loved and cherished by God and invited to accept the Lord’s offer of forgiveness.” (Bishop Barron, USCCB)

Pope Francis sees a blessing as a sacramental that can help those who are far away to come closer to the Church. Sacramentals are are

sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them, men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1667)

“Blessing is shown as something abundant in Scripture. Some would take this to be a tacit approval of blessings that go beyond the ordinary scope. However, it is important to note a phrase regarding the liturgical meaning of the rite of blessing.” (Blessing Same-Sex Unions? 5 Things to Keep in Mind)

We will have to wait to see if the pastoral strategies outlined here will help men and women in irregular unions on their way back to the Church. As with all Christians, they are called to repent from their sins and believe in the Gospel.

About Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LC
Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was ordained a Catholic priest in 2013 for the Legionaries of Christ. He has been involved in youth work including missions, retreats and apostolic outreach in Germany, Italy, the United States and Central America. He is passionate about the New Evangelization and formation for young adults and married couples. He is a spiritual director and retreat director, offering marriage preparation and marriage counseling through the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. He is currently Executive Director and Chaplain of the Newman Center at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Pasadena, California. You can read more about the author here.
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