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Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS issues statement on same-sex blessings

The Haitian-American is one of several U.S. prelates to publicly react to the new Vatican doc allowing blessings for couples in irregular unions.

Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS of Charleston at his introductory press conference in February 2022. (Diocese of Charleston/YouTube)

Bishop Jacques Fabre-Jeune, CS of Charleston has issued a letter on this week’s Vatican declaration concerning same-sex blessings, a move from Rome he says will be “widely discussed, interpreted and misinterpreted.”

The Black Catholic prelate’s message to the clergy of his diocese, dated Thursday, comes as Catholics and others react variously to “Fiducia Supplicans” from the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and its new head Cardinal Víctor Manuel “Tucho” Fernández. The document has been pegged as a sea change in the realm of Catholic LGBTQ+ ministry and outreach. 

Its allowance for Catholic clergy to give blessings to same-sex couples—and those in other unions seen by the Church as “irregular”—has largely been met by U.S. bishops with an emphasis on the Church’s teachings on sexuality and marriage, which remain unchanged.

Fabre, who has expressed moderate to conservative stances since his elevation to the episcopacy in 2022, is taking a similar line.

“Firstly, I ask that you emphasize to your parishioners that our Church has not changed its doctrine, and God’s plan for love and life will not be contradicted,” he wrote in new letter.

“Some of the secular world willingly views FS as a reversal of teaching, that the Catholic Church now upholds homosexual unions. This is not the case. Blessings are not a new practice in our faith, and the blessings discussed in FS are inadmissible if they in any way cause public scandal, affirm irregular or same-sex unions or celebrate sin.”

Fabre is one of several American bishops to release statements on “Fiducia Supplicans” since Monday, including some inactive prelates who have spoken out against the measures described therein. Though relatively few bishops have banned the new blessings outright, some religious orders—such as the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception—have instructed their American members not to offer them.

The bishops’ conferences of several countries in Africa, and a small archdiocese in Asia, have likewise chosen to prohibit the application of the new declaration which has the backing and signature of Pope Francis.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a brief statement shortly after the Vatican document was released, focusing on unchanged doctrine and not directly mentioning same-sex couples or the other relationship situations at issue, such as those who have remarried outside of the Church after divorce. 

A follow-up from Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, the chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, decried what he called “misleading coverage in the press” and noted that 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.”

Fabre, in his letter this week, told South Carolina clergy that the declaration represents “an opportunity” for growth in the church’s outreach to the lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities, which he says need “encouragement to persevere and guidance to follow Christ in their call to holiness and bravely carrying this cross.”

“Thank you for all that you have done in your ministry to bring these children of God comfort and knowledge. Please continue as you have been and approach the needs of persons with same-sex attraction on a pastoral level.”

As of Friday evening, Fabre was the only one of the four active African-American Catholic bishops to have publicly issued a statement on “Fiducia Supplicans,” which has been warmly received in the Black Catholic community.

Even so, in the Archdiocese of Washington, headed by the first-ever African-American cardinal in Wilton Gregory, the document has faced criticism from the pastor of at least one Black parish. Msgr Charles Pope, a conservative White priest who leads Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian Catholic Church on Capitol Hill, released a letter to parishioners saying he will not offer the new blessings.

“I think the blessings of such unions would, in fact, lead to confusion and scandal among the faithful regarding the Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality,” he wrote on Thursday.

“I have as my duty the care of all souls here and the duty to protect the faithful from confusion or error that would likely come from conferring such blessings. I must therefore decline to offer them.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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