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Opinion: The CDF can be trusted

The Vatican took over headlines today by formally replying to the question of whether Catholic priests can bless same-sex unions. Their message should not surprise.

Many Catholics do not believe in the Church’s teaching.

This should not come as a surprise, though it is of course a matter of disappointment for many. So it also is with today’s announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) concerning the blessing of same-sex unions.

Their response was, in a word, “Negative.”

For the millions upon millions of Catholics—perhaps even readers of BCM—who have awaited a change in teaching on the matter of same-sex romance (and perhaps a few other hot-button social issues), the not-so-new instruction from the Holy See comes as an attack, an affront, and a mistake.

This writer, on the other hand, welcomes the Church’s affirmation that some things simply cannot change with the times, even if the need for authentic and merciful ministry to all people remains an ongoing struggle in need of the utmost carefulness and prudence.

That is precisely what I saw in the message of the CDF.

They did not speak with malice. They did not speak with objectively harmful language (though various commentators, including some mainstream media outlets, have libeled the Pope and the CDF by claiming their use of the words “choice” and “sin” referred to same-sex attraction rather than to same-sex romance, sexual activity, and unions).

And unlike last summer when they seemed to time a message on gender ideology to coincide with Pride Month—an unintended reminder that there remains much work to be done on the topic of charity in the Church’s dealings with LGBT Catholics—today the Vatican did not pre-empt any notable LGBT commemorations.

Indeed, the question (“dubium”) being answered today, which was surely known by the Vatican and the Pope to become immediate headline news, was prompted not by external opinions or events but by those inside the house of God.

You see, for some time now, bishops in various locales (but especially Germany) have been asking these very questions among themselves—and sometimes attempting to answer them as well, with some clergy going so far as to perform blessings on same-sex unions preemptively.

(It seems a forgone conclusion that a good number of episcopal leaders at Germany’s upcoming synods will continue to voice their support for these very things.)

The Vatican’s explanation made reference to such machinations, though referring to “some ecclesial contexts” rather than to any jurisdiction in particular.

As such, and contrary to the opinions of Catechism-affirming Catholics who nevertheless oppose today’s statement on other grounds, the specific matter of blessing same-sex unions is very much a live issue that would have received a response from Rome sooner or later.

With German bishops meeting ever more frequently, and the Irish bishops announcing a synod just last week, it’s no surprise that today was the day.

And as for Pope Francis, who signed the CDF letter—and is erroneously seen by many as a glimmer of hope for the prospect of doctrinal modernization—he has repeatedly expressed concerns about those seeking to co-opt his “synodal” ethos for their own devices. (Though he recently expressed support for a form of civil unions themselves.)

The CDF stated the obvious in saying that the Church’s longstanding—nay, eternal—teachings on marriage are still in force.

Keep in mind this is the same CDF once known as “the Inquisition”. The congregation took on a new name some decades after the First Vatican Council, and again after Vatican II—ironically, around the time as the Sexual Revolution.

While names will continue to change as need dictates, Black Catholics—who must strive, like all people, to remain truly Catholic—can be assured that timeless teachings will not.

Here at Black Catholic Messenger, that’s the message.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).