[Editor’s note: What follows is an English translation of Cardinal Schönborn’s response to the recent CDF statement on blessings for same-sex couples in the Catholic Church. It was generously provided by a reader and patron from Austria. These remarks were made in the context of an interview. This translation is provided for informational purposes and doesn’t necessarily correlate with the editorial position of Where Peter Is.]
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn:
I’ll start with a very simple observation: Many mothers bless their children. My mother still does this, to this day—I don’t ever leave her home without her blessing me. A mother will not refuse to give a blessing, even in cases when her son or daughter encounters trouble in life. Quite the opposite. And so it is also in the case in this letter to the editor [mentioned previously], where the son comes out as gay and also loving someone of the same sex. Parents, especially if they practice their faith, certainly won’t refuse their child—this son or this daughter—their blessing.
I wasn’t happy about the CDF statement, for a simple reason: The message that came across in the media around the world was a simple “No.” A “No” for a blessing; that is something that hurt many people to their core, as if they felt it and were saying, “Mother, don’t you have a blessing for me? I am your child too.”
The Church is—as we traditionally say—Mater et Magistra, mother and teacher. She must teach, but first and foremost she is a mother. Many people who experience feelings and live homosexually are sensitive specifically in this area: “Is the Church Mother for us?” And they are, and they remain children of God. And they want to see the Church as mother. Therefore this CDF statement has hurt many of them so much, because they feel that they are rejected by the Church.
That there was also a positive motivation for the CDF statement wasn’t felt at all: The high esteem for sacramental marriage, which has become a rarity in today’s world. But the covenant between a man and a woman is something of immense importance and sacred, a covenant for the entire life, promised and sealed before God, a covenant that can also result in children, perceived as a gift from God.
Therefore, it is a legitimate concern of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to avoid creating the impression that a blessing ceremony is entering into a sacramental marriage.
But this “yes” to family doesn’t necessarily imply a “no” to all other forms. The Church has become used to the fact—in a long and painful process—that hers is no longer the only relevant voice concerning human partnerships. Since the 19th century, the state has taken back authority from the Church concerning marriages. It has become a matter of fact—also for the Church—that you first get civilly married before you are married in the Church. [Note: This is the practice in Austria.] And yet, the civil understanding of what a marriage is differs substantially from the sacramental understanding of marriage. We’ve long since become accustomed to this.
The question, “Can homosexual couples be blessed,” belongs to the same category as whether this is possible for remarried or unmarried couples. And here my answer is fairly straightforward:
If the request for a blessing is honest and not a show, i.e. not a kind of public stunt [Note: literally translated as, “a kind of crowning of an external ritual”]—if it really is the request of God’s blessing for a life that two people, in whatever situation, are attempting to share—then they should not be refused this blessing. [Note: Cardinal Schönborn here uses the impersonal active “man wird nicht verweigern,” which is “one will not refuse” and doesn’t translate quite well; it is a way of saying “it might not be the right decision in every situation, but some might think it’s appropriate in other situations.”]
Even though I as priest or bishop must tell them, “You have not realized the full ideal. But it is important that you continue on the path of human virtue, without which there cannot be a good/successful partnership.” And that deserves a blessing. If a liturgical celebration of a blessing is the proper way to do this—that needs careful consideration.
[Translator’s note: As I have come to know my bishop over many years, I believe this last sentence contains a subtle whiff of a hint of “the answer, if I were forced to make it unambiguous, would probably not be yes.” But that is just my personal impression of his closing statement.]
Image: Stephan Schönlaub / Archdiocese of Vienna