The Vatican’s response to same-gender blessings

The Vatican’s same-gender blessings statement (Responsum) has back-fired according to theologian Dr James Alison.

“I’ve been rather encouraged, and particularly surprised how much more unworriedly critical a vast number of people, including cardinals and bishops have been”.

He’s calling the Vatican’s move ‘a shot in the foot’.

James Alison spoke with Professor Thomas O’Loughlin, Fr Michael Kelly SJ, hosted by Dr Joe Grayland on Flashes of Insight.

He characterised the Vatican’s document as a dialogue that is failing to be dialogical.

Alison says the Responsum is an attempt to shut down ‘horizontal conversation’ between people by introducing a ‘vertical directive’.

The Vatican is trying to place a trump card he claims.

‘It is essentially saying you can’t have this discussion because I’m, right’. In this way, the Responsum is attempting to introduce a ‘vertical absolutism into a horizontal discussion’.

One of the issues at play making this dialogue difficult is the question of authority when it comes to Natural Law, Alison noted.

‘I am assuming there is a good understanding’ but it must be ‘delivered to us horizontally, as something reasonable to understand’ he said.

Alison says it is difficult when people hold on to a particular understanding of Natural Law that is no longer reasonable to everybody’s reason.

Professor Thomas O’Loughlin picked up on a false understanding of Natural Law that equates Natural Law with a law of physics, such as the Law of Gravity.

O’Loughlin points out that Natural Law is not a perfectly deductive system but an ‘ordinance of reason’ that helps us ‘make sense of reality around us’ he said.

Fr Kelly pointed out that part of the problem is the process of having an answer and searching for question to fit it, which is part of the issue with the Responsum.

James Alison is known for his firm but patient insistence on truthfulness in matters gay as an ordinary part of basic Christianity, and for his pastoral outreach in the same sphere.

‘In trouble’ for his pastoral outreach, the Congregation for the Clergy dismissed him from the clerical state, forbidding him from teaching, preaching, or presiding.

However, on 2 July 2017, Pope Francis called Alison directly telling him, “I want you to walk with deep interior freedom, following the Spirit of Jesus. And I give you the power of the keys”.

Alison understood from this that Pope Francis did not perceive the congregation’s decision as binding; that he treated him as a priest giving him universal jurisdiction to hear confessions and preach, the two faculties traditionally associated with the power of the keys.

Alison noted that this was how Pope Francis had acted towards those he appointed as “Mercy Priests” During the 2016 Jubilee of Mercy.

Flashes of Insight is a video conversation that began as a way of reflecting on Church liturgy during COVID.

This is the first of three conversations with James Alison.

Additional reading

Theologian says Church needs to develop its teaching on homosexuality