Today I saw the headline, “Pope denounces ‘hypocrisy’ of those who criticise LGBT blessings.” I found that disconcerting, because I have been critical of LGBT blessings. It grieves me to be regarded as a hypocrite by the Holy Father.
Why does Pope Francis call such criticism hypocrisy? He explains: “Nobody gets scandalised if I give my blessings to a businessman who perhaps exploits people, and this is a very grave sin. But they get scandalised if I give them to a homosexual.”
“This is hypocrisy,” he said.
Is blessing a businessman, who perhaps exploits people, analogous to “LGBT blessings”? It’s illuminating to consider the differences.
First, to bless the businessman is to bless an individual. By contrast, “LGBT blessings” does not refer to the blessing of individuals. Rather, Fiducia Supplicans is about “blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples.”
Second, to bless this businessman is to bless someone who perhaps exploits people. If he does, he may or may not be aware of it, and if he is aware of it, he may or may not intend to continue the exploitation despite the blessing. One hopes that if he is aware of exploiting people, the blessing becomes the occasion of his following the example of Zacchaeus, who responded beautifully to the blessing of having Jesus in his home: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Lk 19:8).
In any case, if there is no reason to think that the businessman seeks the blessing as approval of his exploitative practices, neither he nor onlookers are likely to regard the blessing as approval.
By contrast, to bless “couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples” does not refer to blessing people who perhaps engage in non-marital sex. Rather, since the recipients of the blessing are described—in slightly euphemistic official language—as being in illicit sexual relationships, the controversy to which the Pope alludes concerns acts of blessing recipients identified precisely by reference to their sin.
Although it is possible in principle for such a couple to seek a blessing for only the non-sinful aspects of their relationship, it’s hard to avoid concluding that couples who seek such a blessing want to be assured that their sexual relationship itself is not sinful but good, approved by the Lord himself and those who minister in his name. It is likewise hard to avoid concluding that the priest who blesses them intends to signal approval of the sexual relationship. These conclusions are confirmed when the couple romantically hold hands during the blessing.
Can the pope’s analogy be adjusted to overcome these problems?
This question can be answered by considering, in turn, each side of the analogy.
First, what would blessing an individual businessman who perhaps exploits people be analogous to? Second, what would be analogous to “blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples?”
Blessing an individual businessman who perhaps exploits people would be analogous to blessing an individual who perhaps engages in homosexual activity (or some other non-marital sexual activity). However, the Church has always allowed such blessings. They pose no problem. Properly applied, this analogy does nothing at all to vindicate the blessings endorsed by Fiducia Supplicans.
Blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples is not analogous to blessing an individual businessman who may exploit people. Rather, it is analogous to blessing a group of businessmen who are identified precisely by reference to their activity of exploitation—such as their cooperation together in coercive, fraudulent, or extortionary activity.
Consider, for example, what was formerly not a hypothetical case: socially respectable slave owners and dealers assembled over lunch on the day of the district’s monthly slave-sale. It would indeed be hypocritical to be willing to bless such a group as a group—but unwilling to bless homosexual couples as such. But the proper resolution is hardly to recommend avoiding hypocrisy by blessing groups of racketeers or slavers who are unwilling to discontinue their corrupt activity. Is not the proper resolution, rather, to avoid hypocrisy by refusing to bless homosexual couples who are unwilling to discontinue their illicit sexual activity?
And, going above and beyond the avoiding of hypocrisy, is not the proper approach to help people see that to find salvation, we must repent of all sin and seek first the kingdom of God?
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