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MANILA, Philippines – Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas released guidelines related to the recently-published Vatican document allowing priests to bless couples in “irregular situations and same-sex couples.”
Villegas, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) from 2013-2017, is the first Filipino bishop to publicly release guidance on the landmark ruling Fiducia supplicans, published on Tuesday, December 18, by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith (DDF) and approved by Pope Francis.
Note that guidelines released by a Catholic bishop only covers his immediate jurisdiction.
According to Villegas’ guidelines dated Tuesday, December 19, he said that Fiducia supplicans adds another understanding to the meaning of blessing in the context of Catholic couples in irregular situations such as “cohabitating relationships, non-sacramental civil marriages, divorced and remarried unions, polygamous bonds, and same-sex unions.”
Villegas said that when a Catholic priest invokes a blessing, it is one of mercy, “asking God to have pity on both of them and to give them the grace of conversion so that they can recognize their relationships.”
He added that the blessing of mercy “is not and cannot be a blessing of sanctification since we cannot ask God to bless something that, as Fiducia supplicans explains, is not ‘conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the Church.‘’”
The archbishop also advised his priests to “choose the appropriate words to reveal this intent of the Church.”
As CBCP president in 2015, Villegas released the pastoral letter “The Dignity and Vocation of Homosexual Persons” which reiterated the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching on marriage as between a man and a woman.
‘Love is a blessing’
Elsewhere, LGBTQI+ advocates and allies within the Catholic Church see the new ruling on blessings as a positive development.
PANTAY national convener Vince Liban hailed Pope Francis’ pronouncement as an “inclusive gesture” that fosters “a more compassionate and accepting environment for diverse expressions of love.”
“We thank the Pope for recognizing that indeed, love is a blessing,” Liban said.
Liban also hopes that the move will “open the hearts and minds” of Filipinos to support the SOGIE Equality Bill, which has faced significant opposition from religious conservatives.
“We sincerely hope that this historic move signals the strengthening of bridges that connects religious communities with the LGBTQI+ community leading to a lasting era of allyship, solidarity, and equality,” part of the statement read.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest known for his LGBTQI+-affirming ministry, welcomed the Vatican ruling as “it is the first time that a Vatican document treats same-sex couples with such pastoral care.”
He noted that it was a “marked shift” from the 2021 document released by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the DDF’s forerunner, which said that priests and deacons could under no circumstances bless same-sex couples because ’God cannot and does not bless sin.’”
“I welcome this new declaration and see it as a much-needed pastoral response to Catholic same-sex couples in loving, committed and self-sacrificing relationships who desire God’s presence and help. And as a priest I look forward to blessing same-sex couples, and sharing with them the graces that God desires for everyone, something I’ve waited years to do,” Martin wrote in a column for Outreach on December 17.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Catholic LGBTQI+-affirming group New Ways MInistry thanked Pope Francis for his “early Christmas gift” to LGBTQI+ Catholics. He said that the pronouncement is “proof that church teaching can—and does—change.”
“It cannot be overstated how significant the Vatican’s new declaration is. Approving blessings for same-gender couples is certainly monumental. But Pope Francis goes further than that by stating that people should not be subjected to ‘an exhaustive moral analysis’ to receive a sign of God’s love and mercy. Such a declaration is one more step Pope Francis has taken to overturn the harsh policing of pastoral care all too common under his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVIl,” DeBernardo said.
Both Martin and DeBernardo had previously met Pope Francis, seen as signs of the Catholic leader’s continuing outreach to the LGBTQI+ community.