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BERLIN (ChurchMilitant.com) - The archbishop of Berlin has released an official statement permitting priests under his jurisdiction to administer blessings to same-sex couples, emphasizing that his directive aligns with the intentions of Pope Francis.
Quoting Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia in a letter dated Aug. 21, Abp. Heiner Koch notes that "it is no longer possible to say that all who are in any so-called irregular situation are in a state of mortal sin and have lost sanctifying grace."
"Pope Francis emphatically calls for pastoral discernment," Koch writes. While rejecting "the legal equality of same-sex partnerships with marriage," Francis "gives the local churches, the pastors, a lot of leeway in dealing with people in so-called 'irregular' situations."
Koch also cites Amoris Laetitia §297 on inclusion: "It's about including everyone; you have to help everyone to find their own way, to participate in ecclesial communion so that he may feel himself a recipient of an undeserved, unconditional and unrequited mercy."
Further, the senior prelate notes that the prefect-designate of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Abp. Víctor Manuel Fernández, has expressed an "openness" to reflecting on same-sex blessings provided they are not confused with the sacrament of marriage.
"What Pope Francis says about the sacrament of the Eucharist in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium applies to all sacraments, including marriage, and even more so to a sacramental such as blessing: 'It is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,'" Koch stresses.
"Blessing, therefore, does not have the meaning of 'legitimize, approve, bless,'" the prelate insists. "As the blessed, we all remain guilty people who need the edifying grace of God for our path in life."
"This basic statement connects all people, including those who are asking blessings for their relationships that have not been sacramentally formed or cannot be sacramentally formed," he adds.
Koch acknowledges that the issue of same-sex blessings has triggered division and conflict even in his diocese.
"Because of the different positions and arguments that speak for and against the blessing of couples, I expect that the full-time ministers make a carefully considered decision for themselves," he suggests.
The archbishop says that he will personally not bless same-sex couples because the Holy Father has not ruled explicitly on the matter. Koch also states he will abide by the decree issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in March 2021 banning same-sex blessings.
"As the German Bishops' Conference, we are doing everything we can to intensify talks with the pope and those responsible for further clarification," he observes.
In his five-page letter, the archbishop spells out arguments put forward by proponents and opponents of same-sex blessings.
Catholics opposed to same-sex blessings are convinced that "God does not bless sin," but others believe "the Church is constantly evolving and advancing in the knowledge of God and thus also in the knowledge of the order that the Creator has placed in his creation," he writes.
Supporters of blessings for homosexual couples want the Church to "recognize when good things happen in a partnership, especially love and fidelity [and] mutual support 'in good times and bad,'" Koch notes.
On the other hand, opponents of same-sex blessings "want to protect and promote the sacrament of marriage and marriage as understood by the Catholic Church," he admits. Such people believe that homosexuals will demand sacramental marriage once their demand for blessings is met.
Proponents of blessings for gay couples contend that "the Church is entitled to speak of this objective goodness through blessing as a gift from God," Koch writes. "Acknowledging the goodness of a relationship is a way of speaking well of God to those people."
Earlier, in a conversation with Jesuits at the Colégio de São João de Brito on Aug. 5, during his apostolic journey to Portugal for the World Youth Day, Pope Francis insisted on the need to include homosexuals in the Church without insisting on the requirement for chastity.
During the meeting, a young Jesuit asked Pope Francis to comment on homosexual Catholics who "do not see the call to chastity as a personal call to celibacy but as an imposition."
"What I don't like at all, in general, is that we look at the so-called 'sin of the flesh' with a magnifying glass, just as we have done for so long for the sixth commandment," Francis responded. "So everyone is invited. This is the point."
"The most appropriate pastoral attitude for each person must be applied. We must not be superficial and naive, forcing people into things and behaviors for which they are not yet mature or are not capable," the pontiff noted.
In a significant policy shift, the incoming head of the Roman Catholic Church's doctrinal watchdog has expressed a progressive stance regarding the blessing of same-sex unions, Church Militant reported.
Archbishop Fernández, appointed by Pope Francis as the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, has voiced his willingness to consider allowing "gay blessings" while ensuring they are distinct from the sacrament of marriage.