04 June 2021, The Tablet

The Catholic Church must find a way to accommodate the relationships of its LGBTQ members

The Catholic Church must find a way to accommodate the relationships of its LGBTQ members

Boris and Carrie Johnson were married at Westminster Cathedral.

In a ceremony at Westminster Cathedral, the seat of English Catholicism, the twice-divorced Boris Johnson married Carrie Symonds. 

Boris Johnson was confirmed as an Anglian as a teenager. He also has a child with Carrie, out of wedlock, and has other children from previous relationships (it’s believed he has fathered seven children).

None of this is meant as a judgement of the British Prime Minister and his new wife. Sacraments are not reserved for the righteous and we shouldn’t use them as a political point scoring tool. 

The Church has shown compassion and understanding to the newly-weds. Life is complex and not always straight forward. 

Why can this same understanding not be afforded to same-sex couples?

Many people have wondered how Boris Johnson was able to receive the sacrament of marriage in a Catholic church given he is twice divorced. While it’s important to note that he didn’t receive any special treatment, some Church leaders have still expressed concern at the ceremony.

Canon Paul Gargaro is the head of the Scottish Catholic Tribunal, which primarily deals with marriage nullities. He took to Facebook to clear up some of the confusion as to how the twice-divorced Johnson could be married in the Catholic Church, despite Canon Law not allowing the re-marriage of a divorcee whose spouse is still alive. 

While he acknowledged that “we don’t know all the details”, he said the “situation seems to be as follows”.  

Catholics (and Johnson is a baptised Catholic) have an obligation to get married within the Catholic Church. Though Gargaro says “becoming an Anglican is a serious sin for a Catholic, it does not remove the obligation to marry in the Church”.

Johnson’s previous marriages did not take place within the Catholic Church, and Gargaro says “these weddings would be invalid for ‘lack of canonical form’ and he would therefore be free to marry” and “bound by obligation to marry in the Catholic Church”. 

Gargaro adds that “lack of canonical form is one type of marriage nullity”, which means there was no “special treatment” for Johnson in his receiving the sacrament of marriage in the Church. 

As Gargaro notes, “countless people will get married in the Church this year despite being divorced because their previous marriage were outside the Church”. 

It is worth noting that such a dispensation isn't offered to divorcees who are not baptised Catholics. In these instances, an annulment would be required before they are able to marry within the Catholic Church.

However, even though there was no bar to Johnson being married in a Catholic ceremony, Gargaro says Johnson’s “treatment of women and fidelity does seem to leave a lot to be desired” and he hoped the priest who presided over the wedding had “proper marriage preparation for them” in light of this. 

Canon Paul Gargaro says Johnson’s “treatment of women” leaves a lot to be desired, yet his marriage goes off without a hitch.

How hurtful this must be to LGBTQ Catholics, who are told that their relationship is so sinful that it cannot be blessed, even in private. 

In March of this year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) said it was “impossible” for God to “bless sin” in response to a question on whether the Church had “the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex”. 

Pope Francis says the “mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is an immense mystery” but it can be summarised as such: “God is love”.

Gay members of the Catholic Church exist and they want to be a part of the faithful. The Church must find a way to make room for their love and blessing same-sex civil-unions is a common-sense way to afford the dignity they deserve as members of the faith.

It’s not some radical idea but something that is already happening in Catholic churches around the world, notably in Germany, where around 100 churches are defying the prohibition on blessing same-sex unions.  

The “Love Wins” movement emerged in the German Church in response to the CDF’s proclamation that God “cannot bless sin”.

The group says they “will continue to accompany people who enter into a binding partnership in the future and bless their relationship”, adding that they “will not refuse a blessing ceremony”.

Volunteers, accompanied by 16 German priests, gathered thousands of signatures to a petition calling on the Church to extend blessings to same-sex couples, while more conservative churches were encouraged to fly a rainbow flag to highlight that all forms of love are worthy of God’s graces.

The Catholic Church is a pilgrim church that must always be forwards looking. 

As Saint John Henry Newman notes: “To live is to change. To be perfect is to have changed often.”

Change is needed to treat the Church’s gay members with dignity, but also to keep abreast with changing times. 

Two-thirds of Catholics in Ireland support same-sex marriage. In the UK, that figure is 78 per cent. But the matter is more pressing than opinion polls. 

Father James Martin, a prominent US priest and editor of “America Magazine”, said the CDF’s statement that the Church cannot “bless sin” caused “anger” and “demoralisation” within the Church that he has not seen since the emergence of child sex abuse scandals. 

And in an interview with The New York Times, Reinhard Kleinewiese, who blesses same-sex couples at his German church, said: “We can’t ignore the fact that a lot of homosexual couples have already left the Church.”

He emphasised the need to “we make clear that we are not in agreement with Rome on certain issues and prohibitions”. 

If the Church can accommodate the wedding of Boris Johnson, whose “treatment of women and fidelity” leaves a lot to be desired, then it must find a way to accommodate committed relationships between its gay members.

What do you think?


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