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Church of England starts same-sex blessings

Group representing about 500 British Catholic priests say such blessings 'are pastorally and practically inadmissible'
Members of the church attend the Church of England Synod, at Church House, in London, on Feb. 7.

Members of the church attend the Church of England Synod, at Church House, in London, on Feb. 7. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 22, 2023 05:45 AM GMT
Updated: December 22, 2023 05:48 AM GMT

The Church of England started to bless same-sex couples only a day before the release of a major Vatican document on the issue, with a group representing about 500 British Catholic priests saying that blessings for same-sex couples "are pastorally and practically inadmissible."

The Dec. 21 statement by the British province of the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy was issued amid "widespread confusion" following the Dec. 18 publication of "Fiducia Supplicans" ("Supplicating Trust") by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The declaration by Argentine Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the dicastery's prefect, has been interpreted in the media as permission for Catholic priests to offer pastoral blessings to same-sex couples and to people in other irregular relationships, with bishops around the world publishing explanatory notes for faithful that this is not the case.

The British Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, a group of largely orthodox priests, issued a warning to Catholics about the document.

It began by reminding the faithful that the Catechism of the Catholic Church presents homosexual acts as acts of "grave depravity," which are "contrary to the natural law."

"It is in this context that we must assess the recent document Fiducia Supplicans -- which proposes a call for discernment which may lead to bestowing blessings on those in same-sex or unmarried unions," the statement said.

"We note the noble pastoral desire to assist people to move forward by renewal of life and the call to conversion, building on all aspects of natural goodwill and virtue," it said. "Nevertheless, we see no situation in which such a blessing of a couple could be properly and adequately distinguished from some level of approval."

The statement said that such blessings "would inevitably lead to scandal -- to the individuals concerned -- to those involved directly or indirectly in the blessing – or to the minister himself."

"We believe that genuine charity always follows true doctrine and that such blessings would work against the legitimate care a priest owes his flock," it concluded, noting that "such blessings are pastorally and practically inadmissible."

The rejection of "Fiducia Supplicans" by the Catholic priests' group comes less than a week after the Church of England used new blessings for same-sex couples for the first time in a history spanning nearly 500 years.

Canon Andrew Dotchin, the vicar of St. John the Baptist in Felixstowe, east England, conferred the Prayers for Love blessing Dec. 17 on lesbian couple Rev. Catherine Bond and Rev. Jane Pearce, who are associate priests in the parish.

The ceremony took place just five days after the commendation of the prayers was agreed Dec. 12 by a majority 24-11 vote in the Church of England's House of Bishops, ratifying a decision to allow same-sex blessings that was taken in February.

The couple knelt before Canon Dotchin, who touched their heads as he gave "thanks for Catherine and Jane, to the love and friendship they share, and their commitment to one another as they come before you on this day."

The blessings can be used in all regular church services and, although same-sex marriage remains forbidden, plans are underway to introduce "services of prayer and dedication" for same-sex couples, which according to The Church Times, the London-based Anglican newspaper, would resemble weddings.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in the U.K. since 2013.

Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury will not personally bless any same-sex couples because it would conflict with his role as leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, part of which is hostile to homosexual relationships.

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