This time Pope Francis drops an atom bomb on MAGA and the GOP
Don't go by the caveats. The Vatican announcement allowing priests to bless same-sex couples is meteoric. And it's crushing to the MAGA Republican-dominated American Catholic church hierarchy.
Dear readers: Apologies that I’ve not posted in a few days. Have been under the weather with a stomach virus and was completely checked out on Monday. Feeling much better now!
Last month, I wrote about how Pope Francis dropped another bomb on MAGA and the GOP when he evicted Cardinal Raymond Burke, an influential right-wing American cardinal who is a COVID denialist, an anti-LGBTQ crusader, and someone highly involved in MAGA Republican politics, from his cushy Vatican apartment. Francis also took away Burke’s pension and said good riddance to the man who’s been making a fortune on speaking tours attacking the pope.
My interest in this, as I explained, is not with regard to religious doctrine per se—I’m not a practicing Catholic and not religious in any way—but rather is all about the political implications, since the Vatican, as a state with a government in addition to being the seat of a religion, has global influence, at the United Nations and with heads of state who meet regularly with the pope.
Well, now the pope has dropped a megaton bomb on the American Catholic church, which is immersed in MAGA GOP politics: Francis, through the Vatican’s Office of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, is allowing priests to bless same-sex couples. The Vatican made clear that this won’t allow liturgical ceremonies and isn’t a change in its position on the definition of marriage. But, honestly, that’s all politics for now, as the Vatican, which is on the hundred year plan of change, has now opened a door never before opened on doctrinal change moving toward acceptance of LGBTQ rights.
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And make no mistake: This is for the first time a positive change in doctrine by the Catholic Church on anything related to LGBTQ people. Every other report or action showing the pope’s support for same-sex couples and transgender people has been either via a leak of something the pope said in private or a direct statement from the pope about his opinions, even as he cannot change doctrine.
But this declaration came from the head of the CDF, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who leads an office that was once led by former Pope Benedict—then Cardinal Ratzinger—who in the 1980s had the CDF decree that homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered.” The CDF, through assemblies, debates, and votes by members, changes the actual doctrine the church is to follow.
So we are now seeing the first doctrinal change, signed off by the pope, coming from the new leader Francis put in place just this past July, Fernandez—a close friend from Argentina—who has been publicly supportive of LGBTQ for a long time. While, again, Fernandez stated that this doesn’t change the church’s definition of marriage—and thus doesn’t change church doctrine on marriage per se—he emphasized that it is “a real development” and an “innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings... based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis.”
And it’s a reversal of the Vatican's position against blessing same-sex couples, which it decreed a few years ago—even though the German Catholic Church has been blessing same-sex couples for several years and the Vatican has mostly looked the other way.
Expect much more to come—even if it may be in Vatican years—as Fernandez is a teenager by Vatican standards, at 61 years old. (My hope is that he moves to remove the “intrinsically disordered” language regarding homosexuality, which is long overdue.)
There’s been outrage over the announcement among conservative Catholics and some of the American church leadership. The right-wing Catholic website, LifeSite News, slammed Francis for engaging in a “contradiction to the unchangeable Catholic teaching that the Church cannot bless sinful relationships.” (But they don’t seem to get that nothing is “unchangeable;” the CDF is what makes change, and they did this, not the pope, who simply signed off on it.) The site is running articles about rogue bishops and cardinals around the world who say they won’t comply.
But, interestingly, the hard-right, highly political U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops—which works with ultra-conservative Republican politicians—has clung to what the declaration doesn’t do rather than what it does do, trying to stay in line. The USCCB put out a statement:
The church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.
This seemed to me like a bit of a waving of the white flag while trying to claim nothing’s changed. They’ve seen the strong actions this pope has taken against those challenging his authority. It’s a way of grudgingly saying we’ll follow orders even if we don’t agree.
The New York Times quoted one of the most vociferous homophobes in the American church, making a similar cautious statement:
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, an outspoken conservative in a city known as a longtime vanguard of gay rights, stressed that the document did not change Catholic doctrine.
“I encourage those who have questions to read the Vatican declaration closely, and in continuity with the church’s unchanging teaching,” he said in a statement. “Doing so will enable one to understand how it encourages pastoral solicitude while maintaining fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
But it does in fact change doctrine—not on same-sex marriage itself but on blessing couples who are in a same-sex relationship. That is a big change, a reversal. There is no two-ways about it—they are losing big time.
Sure, gay and lesbian couples who are practicing Catholics can’t have a church wedding—right now. But that time will come. Furthermore, people often forget that marriage is a civil contract overseen and regulated by the state. It’s a two-part process. A license is issued by the state, and then vows are taken, which finalize the process. If the state finalizes the process, a justice of the peace performs the ceremony at which vows are made. But the state has given churches, synagogues, mosques—actually many entities, via licenses the state grants—the privilege to seal the deal and perform the ceremony, adding their own religious or other characteristics.
So it seems to me that the bishops are splitting hairs and doing everything they can to downplay this. A gay or lesbian couple can be married by a justice of the peace and then have a priest come—or visit a priest—and have a blessing performed.
That is not something that the conservatives in the church are happy about, no matter how much they sugarcoat the announcement.
How it affects the GOP and the radical MAGA movement is in regard to a fraying of the alliance between the Catholic Church and the evangelicals in the Christian nationalist movement, which is a driving engine of the GOP and MAGA.
Francis, by removing hard-right leaders in the American church who claim to speak for the church, is letting it be known that the Catholic Church is pulling out of this alliance, which could be quite destabilizing to the Christian nationalist movement in time since the Catholic church has a lot of money and influence, particularly with politicians and within American culture.
And by moving forward on acceptance of LGBTQ people, Francis is also letting it be known that the agenda of the Catholic Church is sharply diverging from that of the evangelical movement—and the GOP. That, as I’ve said before, can only be a good thing.