A document released by the Roman Catholic Church reconsidering its policy on blessings—including those to people in same-sex relationships—offers Anglicans a new way to think about divisions within their own communion, says the Rev. Iain Luke, principal of the Saskatoon-based College of Emmanuel and St. Chad and a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue.
The declaration Fiducia Supplicans, endorsed by Pope Francis on Dec. 18, lays out a shift in the Roman Catholic Church’s approach to blessings. It encourages clergy to offer blessings from the church to any who ask without first scrutinizing whether they are in compliance with the church’s doctrines or meet some moral standard.
When someone asks for a blessing, the document says, regardless of their marital or moral status, they are showing their openness to God’s love and assistance. “This request should, in every way, be valued, accompanied, and received with gratitude,” it states. “People who come spontaneously to ask for a blessing show by this request their sincere openness to transcendence, the confidence of their hearts that they do not trust in their own strength alone, their need for God, and their desire to break out of the narrow confines of this world, enclosed in its limitations.”
Though the new policy does not allow Roman Catholic priests to bless same-sex relationships, it does allow them to bless the people in them, whose relationship status would previously have been grounds for a priest to deny a blessing, says Luke. He compares this approach to that of the early days of Christianity in the first century AD.
“The kind of welcome and help that the church tried to offer to people like runaway slaves for example, wasn’t conditioned on anything,” he says. “And that’s something that’s right there in the document—to say there’s a blessing that God offers always to everyone without our needing to do anything. It’s unconditional.”
While many LGBTQ-supporting Anglicans in Canada may feel this move still leaves a wide gulf between themselves and the Roman Catholic position on marriage, he says, the document also shows that as a dialogue partner, the Roman Catholic Church is trying to be responsive to issues of sexuality. It may even offer some insight, he says, for conversations within the Anglican Church of Canada, which is not of one mind on the question of same-sex marriage.
General Synod voted down an amendment that would have made language in the church’s marriage canon fully gender-neutral, though since the canon does not explicitly prohibit same-sex marriages, some dioceses have allowed them.
For those who cannot see their way to a change in doctrine, he says, Fiducia Supplicans offers a model of what it might look like to be as welcoming as possible, even when remaining in disagreement. It also offers food for thought for those who advocate for same-sex marriage. Luke says they may recognize that this document shows even those on the other side of the debate—who are not able to reconcile same-sex marriage with their beliefs—may still want to be as welcoming as they can to LGBTQ people.
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, says she expects Fiducia Supplicans and the reasoning behind it to be a topic of continued discussion and debate within the Anglican Church of Canada and in its dialogue with Roman Catholics.
For some, the new approach does not go far enough in recognizing the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, she wrote in a statement emailed to the Anglican Journal, but for others it will be a step too far—even though, she said, the Roman Catholic church still does not consider same-sex relationships in any way equivalent to marriage. Still, she said, the dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics has continued despite deep disagreements before, and she does not expect the new policy will change that.
Luke, meanwhile, says the new policy may offer some nuance to an issue that too often results in an all-or-nothing attitude between its two sides, both within and outside the Anglican Communion.
“We tend to think in terms of pro- or anti-, and either you’re pro-gay couples and you want everything that you can get for them, including marriage, or you’re against,” he says. “My hope is that what we could take away from what the Catholic Church has done here is a step back from the polarization that seems to come along with that way of viewing things.