Student Life

Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith says it cannot bless same sex marriage

On March 15, The Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the main teaching body within the Vatican, issued a response to a specific question asking whether the Catholic Church has the power to give blessings to unions of persons of the same sex. There have also been some practices in the Church in Germany and questions from the German Bishops conference that elicited this statement.  The CDF’s response was “negative” and offered an explanatory note to justify their position. Pope Francis was informed of their response to the question and gave his consent to publish it. 

The document said that they welcome those with homosexual inclinations with respect, but stated that, “blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not therefore, and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them.” 

Father Thom Hennen is the head chaplain at St. Ambrose, and he has a background in moral theology. He has also spent the past five years as a chaplain for a group called, “Courage,” which is an organization that works with gay men and women in the Catholic Church stiriving to live out what the Church teaches and presents. Hennen agreed with the CDF’s statement on same sex marriage. 

“The bottom line is, can the Church do this? Does the Church want to do this? Does the Church have the ability to do this? But the question was: may we bless these unions? And if we could bless these unions, we would have been doing so already,” Hennen said. 

Hennen said that the one thing the CDF could work on is “translating it’s message to the people in the pew.”

“Sometimes we’re using very specific theological or philosophical language that is familiar to those who have been in that environment for a long time or studied it,” Hennen said. “It can come off as very harsh or cold and again, this is a short response to a very specific question, so I know a lot of the media after this came out and reported it as almost kind of terse.” 

Sarah Eikleberry, the advisor for PRISM, the LGBTQ+ group on campus, and a kinesiology and women and genders studies professor at St. Ambrose, was not surprised by the Catholic body’s statement, and was more surprised that the Church even commented on a contemporary issue. 

“No one was expecting the position to change. I did find it a little bit frustrating because as I recalled, it is not outside of the custom of various parts of the Roman Catholic Church and clergy to do blessings on things like pets, cars, boats, and other inanimate objects,” Eikleberry said. “It was an unnecessary and hurtful opinion. Pope Francis does a dance of inclusion, but it is still the old repackaged version of ‘love the sinner, hate the sin.’”

Eikleberry further commented on how the students in PRISM reacted to the catholic body’s statement. 

“The consensus was why did they even feel the need to give us the time of day? Sometimes by reiterating a position that is already known or understood, even if it’s not explicitly said, feels unnecessary. Let the sleeping dogs lie,” Eikleberry said. 

Eikleberry pointed out the good things that St. Ambrose has done for social justice and equality, yet pointed out that there are still steps to be taken. 

“St. Ambrose allows employees that are in non-traditional marriages or partnerships to take on benefits for their families and their children, including scholarships. We also have an anti harassment and discrimination policy that covers sexuality, gender expression and gender identity, and that’s really good,” Eikleberry said. “But, I would say that if you were to talk to some of our students, there could be more outward signs of inclusion on the campus website, or when you walk into the chapel spaces.”  

Where Does the Church Draw Their Position From?

Ella Johnson, associate professor in systematic theology at St. Ambrose, said that the Church’s teaching is based on complementarity theory. This is an idea that God created men and women to be different, and when brought together, the full image of God is seen. Because of this contrast, there are different social roles given to men and women because of their biology. 

“For them, it’s not a thing about equality, it’s just a difference.The interesting thing theologically about this is that gender theory of complementarity is very outdated in the world in gender studies today. That based on your biology, you live out these certain roles. And so, that would have to change for same sex marriage to be allowed,” Johnson said. 

Lisa Powell, department chair and professor in the theology department, as well as a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ECLA), said that the Catholic Church believes that sex needs to be unitive, procreative, and within marriage. Not only are homosexual acts taboo, but also the use of contraception and the act of masturbation because they are not open to conception.

“Can we talk about gay relationships the same way we seem to talk about birth control? Because a huge percentage of Catholic women have admitted to using birth control,” Powell said. “I just wish that we could look at it all as, these are all forms of sex that are outside acceptable Catholic practice, but we don’t. We create homosexuality as this worse thing.” 

Using Scripture as a Basis?

Not only is church doctrine and complementarity theory components that Christians draw from, there is also biblical scripture people cite to justify their position on same sex marriage. These texts range from Genesis in the Old Testament to Paul’s letter to the Romans in the New Testament. There is controversy of whether to take scripture literally or read the scripture in the context and history where it took place. 

“I don’t know that we can just carve out those passages and kind of railroad them through as ‘here’s our justification for this.’ On the other hand, we can’t carve them out and say these are meaningless and set them aside completely. I am absolutely understanding of the need to look at scripture in context,” Hennen said. 

Johnson stressed the importance of carefully analyzing biblical text and keeping in mind that the writers were subjective humans. 

“Many texts need to be read within their cultural locations. The Bible is inspired, but we also need to take into account that God didn’t pull the hand of biblical writers. They were using their brain and had their own issues sometimes too. Those need to be interpreted carefully,” Johnson said.  

Powell pointed out that, in The New Testament, the term ‘homosexual’ didn’t enter translations of the Bible until 1946.

“The insertion of the term ‘homosexual’ occurred at the same time gay rights activism was growing. This was a particular move by the translators. So what those passages are especially talking about is young boys or slaves being used sexually, and previous translators reflected that,” Powell said. 

Should the Catholic Church Change Their Doctrine Based on Public Support?

According to Pew Research Center, 61% of Americans are in support of same sex marriage while 31% oppose it. Despite the majority of America being in favor of same sex marriage, Hennen said that the Catholic Church should not change it’s stance based on public opinion. 

“In the end, the Church has to stand not before society, but has to stand before God. People are willing to say, ‘This is what I believe, this is what is right, and you can walk away from me if you disagree, but I’m not bending,’” Hennen said. “So people kind of admire that tenacity in other areas, but then they kind of resent it when it comes to the Church.” 

Powell agreed that the Church should not change their stance based on public opinion, but cited other reasons why they should change.

“I would want them to change their stance because a change would reflect the love of God. Not because that’s what the public wants. God doesn’t want people to hate themselves. They should not be condemned to a lonely life without partnership just because of who they are attracted to,” Powell said. “It contradicts the message of Jesus, who of course said nothing about homosexuality. He was really concerned about greed, but we’re not talking about greed all the time. He had a lot to say about rich people hoarding their goods, but we’re not obsessed with that.”

Building Bridges Between the Communities 

Despite all the differences of opinions, there was a consensus built that there needs to be more education, discussion, and empathy from all sides to form a bridge between the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ+ community. 

“The Church should and can and needs to do more to listen to people, especially sexual minorities, but I also find sometimes that dialogue is not reciprocated. We all need to reframe what it means to have dialogue. And it might mean walking away from the table still not agreeing with each other, but hopefully understanding each other better. And understanding that the other is not out to get me. That everybody is trying to make sense of what it means to be human and to live on this planet together,” Hennen said. 

Johnson stressed the importance of not only preaching God’s word to people, but making it relevant and relatable. 

“I think it is a time when we all need to redouble down our efforts to minister to people who identify as LGBTQ+ within the Catholic community,” Johnson said. “Many of the ways that we talk about God today don’t relate to people’s concerns. It’s not because God doesn’t care. It’s maybe because theologians, teachers, and priests have not done the work to make those connections.”

How Can YOU Bee the Difference?

PRISM meets every Tuesday night at 8pm virtually for students or faculty that are interested in joining or supporting the group. For those interested in becoming more invested in campus ministries, there is Mass on Mondays at 12pm, Wednesdays at 9:15pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:30pm, as well as mass at 10:30am and 6:30pm on Sundays. Bridge Bible Fellowship is also a group on campus that is open to anyone regardless of religious affiliation that meets every Tuesday at 8:30pm. Use these groups to further educate yourself on these issues and be the change you want to see on campus. 

Read the full statement put out by the CDF here: