DOES our ageing and visibly ailing Pope realise what he has inflicted on the Roman Catholic Church by announcing his decision to permit the blessing by priests of same-sex marriages? Quite apart from its potential to trigger an exodus of Catholics to other denominations or to enclaves such as the Society of St Pius X, and to discourage those from other denominations who were thinking of coming on board, it puts the clergy in an unenviable position.
In his recent YouTube appearance to deliver a message to the COP28 summit in Dubai, one of his many ill-considered pronouncements on climate change, Pope Francis appeared grossly overweight and to be struggling with his breathing. Whether he is fully in control of his faculties could be questioned. Some may consider, for various reasons, that the Roman Catholic Church is sede vacante (with a vacant see) due to the present Pope’s departures from traditional Catholic doctrine. Others may wish that the See of Peter was, indeed, vacant given the wokeness that emanates from the present Bishop of Rome.
Pope Francis has issued permission to bless same-sex marriage with various provisions that such blessings are not incorporated into normal liturgy and that decisions about issuing such blessings reside with individual priests. This is the thinnest end of a very thick wedge that will ultimately lead to serious efforts to permit same-sex marriage within the Church.
The issue of same-sex marriage in itself presents a significant challenge to the Roman Catholic Church. One of the UK’s established denominations, the Church of Scotland, already permits same-sex marriage and the Church of England is under tremendous pressure to do so. Given its record on other matters, it is surely only a matter of time before the C of E gives in. How long before the Roman Catholic Church finds itself at odds with the UK government and under pressure either to conform on same-sex marriage or to find itself in breach of the law?
However, these issues are for the future. The immediate issue resides in the parishes where the Pope’s announcement will set priest against priest, priest against parish and also endanger, possibly physically, those priests who refuse to bless gay marriages.
With the ruling in place until Monday December 18 2023 that same-sex marriages may not be blessed, same-sex couples knew that they were on a hiding to nothing in seeking a blessing for their union from a Roman Catholic priest. Under these new arrangements, while it is doubtful there will be a deluge of same-sex couples seeking a blessing, it opens the way for militant gay activists to test the waters, to identify priests who are willing to perform blessings and, more worryingly, those who are not.
Consider the case of the Christian Ashers Baking Company in Northern Ireland which refused to emblazon a cake with the words ‘Support Gay Marriage’. It is not clear if they were deliberately approached by gay activist Gareth Lee who possibly knew their stance and who wished to expose them and to open them up to opprobrium from other gay activists and assorted social justice warriors. However, that is what happened and a court case ensued, which it took the bakers seven years to win.
Imagine a lone Catholic parish priest approached with a request to bless a same-sex marriage. He refuses, as he is permitted by Pope Francis, on the grounds of conscience. It will not take long for news to spread that he is unwilling to bless same-sex marriages and the consequences could be serious.
How long before Masses are disrupted, the priest’s house comes under siege, not to mention the hate mail and threats? Pope Francis will be safely guarded behind the walls of the Vatican, but the lone parish priest will be lucky to get police protection or even any visible moral support from brother priests for fear they get the same treatment.
Given the circumstances created by Pope Francis it may have been better for parish priests if he had simply declared that the Catholic Church would bless same-sex marriages and obliged priests to administer the blessings. That way the choice for priests would have been clear: stay and bless or seek dispensation from their clerical obligations. The Roman Catholic Church which, for the faithful is the Ark of Salvation, is presently holed below the waterline.