SINGAPORE — The Vatican’s declaration to allow blessings of same-sex couples was not an endorsement of same-sex unions, but a setting out of the “rules and boundaries” for priests to bless these couples without it being mistaken as approval, the Catholic Church in Singapore said on Tuesday (Dec 19).
On Monday, in a document approved by Pope Francis, the Vatican backed the “possibility of blessings” for same-sex couples and couples in “irregular situations”, but insisted that the blessings must not be established as a Catholic rite or be given in contexts related to civil unions or marriage.
The head of the Vatican’s faith department, which wrote the document, was quoted in the introduction as saying that it was “a broadening and enrichment” of the Vatican’s stance on blessings, “based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis,” who wants a Church open to all.
The Vatican added that to avoid any form of confusion or scandal, blessings for same-sex couples cannot be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.
In a statement published on Tuesday, Cardinal William Goh, archbishop of Singapore and leader of the Roman Catholic Church here, reiterated that the Vatican’s declaration was focused “not on the blessing of the unions of same-sex couples”.
He added that the Church is blessing couples who “are in irregular situations” such as those who are divorced and remarried, people struggling to be faithful to God’s commandments and those who aborted their babies.
This is just like how “we bless the sick, the elderly, and those who request spiritual and temporal blessings”, he said.
“We do not bless the sins of the person, but rather, the individual who is always loved by God, even when he or she is a sinner.”
The Vatican’s declaration serves in essence to provide “guidance in making a distinction between the Church’s official blessings, and a pastoral blessing for all occasions outside the liturgical and sacramental setting”, Cardinal Goh added.
Pastoral blessings or temporal blessings are ad-lib prayers offered spontaneously for a person such as during a meeting with a priest personally or in an informal group setting.
For instance, this may be for people asking for a blessing in times of need or a special occasion during a birthday or anniversary, or people asking for a blessing before making a journey overseas or before childbirth.
They do not legitimise anything, but rather to ask for God’s help to live better and to strengthen the people’s faith.
These are different from “official blessings”, which are imparted through the use of approved prayers in a ritual form, in addition to certain conditions being fulfilled. For example, in seeking forgiveness from God, Catholics ask for a blessing from priests when confessing their sins and this would require conditions such as being truly sorry or remorseful for their sins.
Cardinal Goh also said that the Church would want “everyone, without exemption” to receive God’s blessings for “good health, loving relationships, financial security and… their spiritual growth in understanding, discerning and accepting the will of God in their lives as taught in scripture and by the Church”.
“We hope that through encountering God’s love and mercy, they will be transformed by His grace and become the person that God has meant them to be,” he added.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore said in its statement that with media reports on the Vatican’s declaration, it would want to “correct the misimpression that the Church has changed its stance on its traditional doctrine about marriage”.
It added that it is grateful that Pope Francis has authorised this declaration so that church ministers will not “act in a way that gives others the wrong impression that the Church endorses same-sex unions”.
The declaration is the Church’s way of “showing mercy, love and compassion for those struggling through difficult situations and coming to terms with the demands of the Gospel”, it said, and that “we are all sinners endeavouring to grow in authenticity and perfection”.
“It is a prayer for these people — that they will come to know that truth is love, without which, love is compromised, and that there will be peace in their lives only when love and truth meet.”
The archdiocese also advised the faithful to refer to the original source of the content, or one close to it, for accurate representation.
It added that anyone who wishes to fully understand the Church’s position on the matter may refer to the official Church document Declaration Fiducia Supplicans.