‘If God cannot bless sin, then why did He create homosexuals?’

Maltese priests respond to a Vatican declaration on the blessing of same-sex unions that said they cannot bless what would otherwise be considered ‘a sin’

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, left, and priests Gorg Dalli (centre) and Colin Apap (right). Below, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer
Archbishop Charles Scicluna, left, and priests Gorg Dalli (centre) and Colin Apap (right). Below, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer

“Catholic priests bless the sick, students and teachers, prison inmates, new buildings, cars and even guns and warships,” writes the National Catholic Reporter’s executive editor Heidi Schlumpf. What they cannot bless, now according to a new directive from the Vatican, is a same-sex marriage.

It is the most succinct description of life in Malta, a nation of avowed Catholic faith where the blessing of homes, animals and pretty much any place of official business, must have its own christening.

But a statement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in response to a ‘dubium’ raised by bishops on the legitimacy of blessing same-sex unions, is reopening a wound for gay Catholics.

The statement reiterates long-established Church doctrine on what constitutes ‘God’s plan for marriage’. But its language has rankled. God “does not and cannot bless sin”, the Vatican said, and therefore the blessing of same-sex unions “cannot be considered licit”.

A priest gives his blessing to the Armed Forces of Malta’s latest naval asset as it is released from an Italian dockyard
A priest gives his blessing to the Armed Forces of Malta’s latest naval asset as it is released from an Italian dockyard

As Archbishop Charles Scicluna told MaltaToday, the statement itself does not break new ground. But he says that as Pope Francis repeatedly reminds them, “we bishops have a duty to promote and encourage the dignified and compassionate pastoral care of all members of our flock, including members of the LGBT community.”

Outspoken priests like Fr Gorg Dalli point out that no statement from the Vatican can yet nullify the attempts of Pope Francis himself to open up the Church to gay Catholics. “He has upheld church teaching on marriage as a union between male and female… But all of us witnessed that in his pastoral activity, Pope Francis extended a warmer welcome to LGBTIQ persons. Let us remember that when he was asked about a gay priest, his reply was, ‘Who am I to judge’.”

“We priests are called to bless everything: houses, pets, automobiles and so on…. Several times we are called to bless gay individuals created by God in His own image and likeness. The gay individuals are being blessed as Catholics Christians. It is themselves being blessed, that will bless their union of love. Wherever there is sincere love, God is making his presence known because God is Love.”

And despite Francis’s official signing-off of the Congregation’s statement, Dalli thinks the Roman Pontiff’s actions belie the spirit of the new directive.

He seems to find it hard to reconcile the hard language of the directive, with the fact that Francis has managed to encourage an honest debate on better pastoral outreach to the gay community, all throughout backing official church teaching on marriage.

He mentions individual examples such as his encounter with survivor Juan Carlos Cruz, to whom he said “God made you that way and loves you the way you are”; or encouraging one gay married Italian couple to raise their children as Catholics. “These are the actions which are louder than words for those who have eyes and want to see. In the context of all of the things the Pope seems to have done on behalf of, and with gay people, it’s hard not to take this as an unnecessary condemnation of relationships that many people find to be profoundly life-giving.”

Dalli however insists that in spite of the Vatican’s response, the Church is itself changing, and that even the Pope’s actions are inspired by a guiding hand – in this case the Holy Spirit – that is changing the church.

“Pastoral caring dictated by love and mercy is developing in the Church. It takes time. But it is… moving. Only a decade ago did the church change its position on capital punishment after 2,000 years of history. Only recently did Pope Francis give us a new pastoral outlook on the divorced and remarried.

“Only now we are moving on more leadership role for women in the church… The Holy Spirit is still guiding and moving the church to attain the whole truth of love and mercy in continuing its mission of Christ the saviour of all.”

Dalli even says Francis himself has done much to shift discourse away from the “disordered language” of Catholic theology itself when describing LGBTIQ persons. “Such as that gay persons are created by God in his own image. With this belief, I cannot equate same-sex marriage with sin.”

“I thank God that Catholics in Western Europe and the United States are increasingly accepting LGBTIQ relationships. This is the way towards which the Holy Spirit is moving the church forward. This is the ‘sensus fidelium’, the faith of the people of God, which Vatican Council II spoke about.”

Fr Colin Apap, a veteran radio presenter, has a pointed question to the authors of the Vatican’s statement: “If ‘God does not and cannot bless sin’, as the Vatican states, then why did God create homosexuals? Homosexuality is not a sin; it is a condition, a variant of creation as science can prove.”

Apap indeed says science must be part of any confessor’s moral judgement on what constitutes a sin, which he says is already a complex theology when one is called to determine who is responsible for what. “No sin is possible just by being born a homosexual by the Creator,” he says.

Instead, priests must use their moral judgement on what is sin, not “on vague ‘tradition’ of the church”, but through science, biblical exegeses, the Magisterium [the Church’s interpretation of God’s Word] and the ‘sensus fidelium’ – or the sense of the faith, the spiritual instinct that enables a believer to judge spontaneously whether a particular teaching or practice is according to his or her formed and informed conscience.

For example, Apap outrightly says that Biblical texts which tend to be used to condemn homosexuality must be taken in the context and time in which they were written, being removed from the reality of today.

“Science teaches that homosexuality is caused by genetical and hormonal factors. Nature evidences 500 variants of homosexual behaviour. Science proves that homosexuality is not an illness or disorder but a natural innate variant. If a person cannot change his sexual orientation, it would be harmful to force one to change his unchangeable nature and deny his real identity,” Apap says.

“Already since 1975 – before the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that homosexuality is no longer considered pathological but a condition that affects humanity – the Magisterium (the Church’s authority on the interpretation of the Word of God – distinguishes between a transitory homosexual tendency and an irreversible orientation (Persona Humana).”

Like Dalli, Apap turns to the sense of the faith, pointing out the European drift towards same-sex unions and marriage as part of a commonly accepted belief. Francis himself has said that civil unions “have the right to be legally covered” while reiterating Church doctrine that there are no grounds for homosexual unions as similar “to God’s plan for marriage and family”.

“Once this distinction is clear, I find it difficult to object to a sacramental blessing of committed couples.  Praying with sinners – the Pope himself admits publicly that he is a sinner – is commendable. No legislation would stop praying for one other,” Apap says.

Apap hopes that the Church’s use of Synods can guide it forward on this matter, although he points out that the timing of the CDF’s explanation may stifle the ongoing discussion in many pastoral synods throughout the world.