Erasing Progress

As a pastor of an Open and Affirming church within the United Church of Christ, I was utterly dismayed to learn that our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters slipped farther away from affirming God’s love in the world this past week by means of a clarifying statement from the Vatican.

With regard to same gender couples, Pope Francis previously stated that “Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to have is a civil union law.  That way they are legally covered.”

It wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of same-sex marriage but it was progress for a church that continues to define homosexuality as a “sin.”

Nonetheless, this progress was completely erased by a papal statement last Monday that reads in part that Catholic clergy cannot bless same-gender couples because to do so would be to “bless sin.” 

“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family….It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage, as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” the statement said.

The statement referred to same-gender unions as a “choice,” described them as sinful and said they “cannot be recognized as objectively ordered” to God’s plans.

While it may provide comfort to some to know that the Catholic Church somehow has rock-solid knowledge of “God’s plan” for their love life, this pronouncement is an affront to every child of God who chooses to love someone of the same gender, seeks to have that relationship blessed by the church, and those churches such as ours that support them in doing so.

More than that, it is an affront to God.  That is because God’s love is to be found in same sex marriages.  Not only is it to be found there, it is to be celebrated there because that is what the church is called to do anytime God’s love is made manifest.  To do otherwise is to deny and crush God’s loving activity in the world; something that is better deserving of the label “sinful.”

At the very least, it is hard to reconcile how someone would think it is important to have gay and lesbian people “legally covered” but then explicitly reject them religiously and liturgically. 

There have always been high hopes among some that Pope Francis would help turn the Catholic Church’s orientation to the modern world.  Even with this statement there are those who are trying to cushion it by reminding people that “homosexual people can be blessed, just not their unions.” 

Alas, however, there is no way to back-peddle or sugar coat a dehumanizing statement; no matter the lengths to which one must go to make twisted logic sound plausible.  It speaks for itself.

It puts the debate to rest and, unfortunately, gives fuel to those who would seek to have their bigotry legitimized.  It also runs the risk of elevating acts of hatred against those who are simply trying to live their lives as equal citizens and equal children of God.

To issue such a statement during the season of Lent is both shameful and hurtful and highlights the need for confession and contrition.