The Catholic Church’s office for promoting its teaching authority has issued a statement in response to a question: ‘Does the Church have the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex?’ The answer is ‘Negative’, in more ways than one. I wrote this response on behalf of The Open Table Network:
The Vatican statement which declares that the blessing of same-sex relationships is ‘illicit’ is a sad reflection on the legalistic language of Church teaching which fails to understand the impact of this language on those to whom it refers. The Catholic Church teaches that every sign of unjust discrimination towards ‘men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ should be avoided [Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2358]. Then it issues statements such as this, which acknowledge positive elements in same-sex relationships ‘to be valued and appreciated’ but not blessed because they are ‘not ordered to the Creator’s plan’. It is language like this that leads people to feel they are ‘broken’ and need to be ‘fixed’ by the harmful practice of conversion therapy, which even the Church of England’s governing body voted to ban in 2017.
Our faith communities must speak for social justice, not contribute to injustice. Sadly, LGBT+ people are accustomed to hearing they are ‘less than God’s ideal’, often accompanied by experiences of shame and rejection. This Vatican statement is yet another example of this.
Research shows that:
- More than half of people who have experienced, or been offered conversion therapy are in our faith communities (National LGBT Survey, Government Equalities Office 2018).
- LGBT pupils at faith schools are 11% less likely to report that their school says homophobic bullying is wrong (57% compared to 68%). LGBT pupils of faith are 5% more likely to have attempted suicide than peers without faith (30 per cent compared to 25 per cent). (School Report, Stonewall 2017)
- 59% of LGBT+ young people interested in joining a religious organisation have stopped or reduced their involvement owing to their sexuality or gender identity (Youth Chances, METRO 2016).
- A third of lesbian, gay and bi people of faith (32 per cent) aren’t open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation. One in four trans people of faith (25 per cent) aren’t open about who they are in their faith community. Only two in five LGBT people of faith (39 per cent) think their faith community is welcoming of lesbian, gay and bi people. Just one in four LGBT people of faith (25 per cent) think their faith community is welcoming of trans people. (LGBT in Britain – Home & Communities, Stonewall 2017)
- Members of our communities are significantly more likely to experience poor mental health, which research has shown relates explicitly to discriminatory pastoral practices of local churches, and the Church’s substantial contribution to negative attitudes in society (In the Name of Love, Oasis Foundation 2017).
The Open Table Network (OTN) began in 2008 because many churches and their congregations do not easily, kindly or honestly welcome LGBT+ people, therefore, many LGBT+ people have nowhere spiritually to belong. In our OTN communities, we help one another in integrating our spiritual identity with our sexual and gender identities. This is incredibly affirming for those who have been suffering inner conflict. Statements like this cause distress for LGBT+ folk who hear the conditional welcome of the Church and think that’s the last word. We know God loves us and has given each of us precious lives, identities and relationships which God calls us to live out with integrity. We’re building communities to witness that everyone belongs to God. We aim to create safe and sacred spaces which warmly welcome and affirm people who are LGBT+, our family and friends, and anyone who wants to belong in an accepting, loving worship community.
As our understanding of the wonderful diversity of humanity grows, so our language needs to evolve to keep pace with it. Faith communities struggle to recognise new and deeper insights revealed through reason, experience and scientific inquiry, especially around sexuality and gender.