ROME — The President of the Austrian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has declared that priests may not refuse to bless gay couples, just two days after the Vatican permitted the practice for the first time.
Salzburg Archbishop Franz Lackner said Monday evening in an interview with Austrian television that at this point priests have no excuse for refusing a blessing to a gay couple that asks for it.
When asked how a priest should react when a same-sex couple requests a blessing, the 67-year-old archbishop said: “Basically, you can no longer say no.”
A blessing is a basic need “like bread, which, in principle, should not be denied to anyone,” Lackner told Austrian Catholic news outlet Kathpress, adding that he welcomed “with joy” the Vatican’s decision to allow gay blessings.
“I believe that the Church recognizes that a relationship between two persons of the same sex is not entirely without truth,” the archbishop said. “There is love, there is loyalty, there are also hardship shared and lived in faithfulness. This should also be acknowledged.”
The church wants to “promise good things in the name of God to couples in irregular situations who stand together in loyalty and love,” he said.
The bishop’s statement illustrates the recurring phenomenon by which once something is allowed it becomes practically obligatory.
Something analogous happened when the Holy See permitted Chinese clergy to join the state-run Catholic Chinese Patriotic Association (CCPA) in 2019.
The Vatican had always forbidden priests from enlisting in the CCPA, which has never recognized the authority of Rome and basically functions as a parallel church under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Once membership in the CCPA was permitted, those priests who refused to join looked no longer like faithful sons of Rome but rather like obstinate rebels who rejected the Vatican’s generous offer.
This led the former bishop of Hong Kong, the redoubtable Cardinal Joseph Zen, to say that Pope Francis’ policies in dealing with the CPC are “killing” the underground Church in that country.
Permitting priests to register with the CCPA was “simply incredible,” Cardinal Zen said. “The document says, ‘To minister openly, you need to register with the government.’ And then you have to sign. To sign something in which it says that you have to support the independent church.”
“The document contains something against our orthodoxy and they are encouraged to sign,” he said. “When you sign, you accept to be a member of that church under the leadership of the communist party. So terrible, terrible.”
The next time I see the pope, “I’m going to tell him: ‘You are encouraging a schism. You are legitimizing the schismatic church in China,’” Zen said. “Incredible.”
Similarly, now that the Vatican has allowed priests to offer blessings to gay couples, their refusal to do so looks like obstinacy and a failure to accept Vatican leadership, rather than fidelity to the Church’s moral teaching on sexuality.
Just two years ago, however, the Vatican declared that it was illicit for priests to bless a homosexual couple, insisting that the Church has no authority to give such a blessing, since God Himself “does not and cannot bless sin.”
Blessings require “that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation,” the Vatican’s doctrinal office said at the time.
“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage,” it read, “as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”
Understandably, it will be difficult for some priests to see how God cannot bless sin one day and the next day He can.