18 January 2024, The Tablet

African bishops reject same-sex blessings but maintain communion

“We African bishops do not consider it appropriate for Africa to bless homosexual unions or same-sex couples, because this would cause confusion.”

African bishops reject same-sex blessings but maintain communion

Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo said that the SECAM statement had been approved by Pope Francis.

Bishops in Africa said they could not apply the “pastoral” blessings proposed in the Vatican declaration Fiducia Supplicans without causing scandal, in a collective response to the document.

In a statement on behalf of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences in Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), its president Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa said there would be “no blessings for same-sex couples in the African Churches” but the bishops nevertheless “strongly reaffirmed their communion with Pope Francis”.

SECAM published the statement on 11 January as a “synodal” reflection on Fiducia Supplicans, following the responses of various national conferences and what it called “misconceptions and unrest” following the declaration’s publication on 18 December.

Ambongo said the statement had been approved by Pope Francis and Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF).

“We African bishops do not consider it appropriate for Africa to bless homosexual unions or same-sex couples, because, in our context, this would cause confusion and would be in direct contradiction with the cultural ethos of African communities,” Ambongo said.

He argued that this was based in “natural law” regarding the family, and that same-sex relationships were widely regarded as contrary to cultural norms and naturally corrupt.

The message of the declaration was too subtle for most people to understand, he said, making it difficult to maintain that a couple in a stable same-sex relationship were not claiming legitimacy for their union.

“The African bishops’ conferences emphasise that people with homosexual tendencies must be treated with respect and dignity, while reminding them that unions of persons of the same-sex are contrary to the will of God and therefore cannot receive the blessing of the Church.”

He continued: “Some countries prefer to have more time for deepening [an understanding] of the declaration, which in fact offers the possibility of these blessing, but does not impose them.”

Ambongo said the African Church would continue to reflect on the general theme of the document, apart from just blessings for the couples.

The statement also insisted that Pope Francis was opposed to any form of “cultural colonization” in Africa, and emphasised that Fiducia Supplicans clearly states that “the Church’s doctrine on Christian marriage and sexuality remains unchanged”.

Whereas African conferences were swift to respond to the declaration – prompting Ambongo’s appeal for a “synodal” continental response – bishops in Europe have been slower to comment collectively, but more have begun to explain how they will respond to the document.

In Spain, Cardinal José Cobo of Madrid declared the priests of his archdiocese are “going to fully apply the Pope’s doctrine” on same-sex blessings “with the intensity that [Fiducia Supplicans] deserves and asks for.”

Cobo, who was appointed to the archdiocese in September last year, added: “Whoever does not agree, I invite you to read it.”

He described the controversy over the document as “artificial” saying “everything has been taken out of context”.

Four Spanish priests who began an online petition urging Pope Francis to rescind Fiducia Supplicans withdrew their signatures following an order from their superiors.

Cobo told the website Religión Digital that the priests had been “asked if they have anything against the Pope and reminded of their oath of fidelity to the Holy Father”.

“A priest cannot be part of a civil, public forum in which the Pope is insulted,” Cobo said, adding: “We are in a situation of mission, and some continue to react as if we were living a Church of conservation.”

The petition was temporarily closed but later re-opened by lay Catholics. To date, it has garnered more than 11,600 signatures from Catholics in Spain and Latin America.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said last week that the declaration “has touched a sensitive spot”.

He said that strong reactions were welcome if they “serve to walk according to the Gospel to give answers to today”, but also emphasised that “the Church is open and attentive to the signs of the times but must be faithful to the Gospel”.

Speaking on Italian television on Sunday, the Pope said of Fiducia Supplicans: “The Lord blesses everyone, everyone…who is capable of being baptised – each individual.

“But then individuals should enter into conversation with the blessing of the Lord and see what path the Lord is proposing for them. But we should take them by the hand and help them to walk along that path, not condemn them from the beginning.”

In an address to the clergy of the Diocese of Rome the previous day, he said that priests should not bless LGBT associations.  “We bless people, not sin,” he said.

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99