He is Risen! The most powerful Christian proclamation: the triumph of Love over sin; the victory of Life over death.
This overwhelming proclamation of the Good News, although celebrated at this time, too often takes second place to our predilection to focus on sin and judgment. The result is a Christian community that appears either effervescent and unwaveringly optimistic or sullen and condemnatory of others: a community, overtly or covertly, at war with itself. This was my first response to the fallout from the CDF’s March 15 Responsum regarding same-sex unions: a community at war with itself. Consider contraception, regularizing married priests in the Roman Catholic tradition, women priests, etc. Our Church is mired in debates over sin, seemingly afraid to embrace the power of divine blessing. Rather than living and witnessing the truth of the Resurrected Lord, the Church recedes into the comfort of old formula or historic squabbles.
I confessed that this binary framing was my initial response. Yet, then I recognized something else happening. I see a Church finally beginning (however cautiously) to deal with its own legacy of acquiescence to homophobic culture; a Church beginning to understand Pope Francis’ call to dialogue and synodality; a Church entering into the conversations of our age—not with the voice of certainty, but rather with voices of discussion, challenge, and yes, even dissent.
For many, including me, the Responsum was not welcome. I think it ill timed, outdated in its language and simplistic in its argument. I believe the issue of blessing same-sex couples is entwined in many issues that Catholic theology needs to confront with balance and an integrated theological anthropology. We must address the question of sexual intimacy outside of marriage impartially, not differentiating between same-sex or heterosexual couples; we must have a better understanding of the sacrament of marriage as a loving union that witnesses the creative love of the Father for all of us; and we must challenge our historical prejudice against members of the lgbtq+ community: a prejudice that causes shockwaves when the Pope says “who am I to judge?”.
My hope—that we can move beyond the simplistic binary to a mature Church that struggles with the questions, listens to the voices and celebrates the Resurrection—is strengthened by the response to the “response.” The CDF’s document motivated new, unexpected voices of the episcopate, previously muted or acquiescent in the face of formal Vatican declarations.
In preparation for the upcoming German synod, Bishop Helmut Dieser stated that they will consider the CDF document while “further developing the Church’s teaching on sexuality.” Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, no starry-eyed progressive, raised concerns about the document’s fundamental understanding of a blessing: "If the request for a blessing is not a show ... if the request is honest and is really a plea for God’s blessing of a way of life that two people want to embark on together, then such a blessing will not be refused.” Bishop Glettler of Innsbruck admits: “We still have a lot to learn (about homosexuality),” including that “same-sex relationships can be based on faithfulness and mutual devotion.” Bishop Büchel of St. Gallen recalled that “The mission of the Church is to bestow this blessing from God and to promise it to the people—not by its own means, but as an intermediary.” The Responsum has generated the honest and authentic dialogue required by Pope Francis’ call for synodality. A perspective perhaps best summarized by Bishop Coleridge of Brisbane cited in The Tablet: “It’s just not enough to say ‘we can’t,’ … That may be important, but it’s only one word in a much, much longer and more complex conversation. In that sense, what the CDF has said in that statement isn’t by any means causa finita est, the end of the conversation. I think it should give greater impetus to another kind of conversation about inclusion.”
A synodal church is a messy church—more committed to dialogue than judgment; more involved in the joy of grace than defining the limits of grace; a Church that embraces the voice of St. John Chrysostom in his Paschal homily: “Come you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You the first and you the last, receive alike your reward; … All of you enjoy the banquet of faith; all of you receive the riches of his goodness … for Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep … Amen.”
Myroslaw Tataryn is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University, Canada, and a Ukrainian Greco-Catholic priest.