Some Toronto Catholics feel that Pope Francis’s latest statement on same-sex couples won’t equate to big changes within the church.
Two weeks ago, the Vatican published answers from Pope Francis to a series of questions posed by Cardinals.
One asked if the church could deviate from its position on marriage and accept same-sex unions without departing from the church’s teachings.
In response, Pope Francis accepted that priests could bless same-sex couples on a case-by-case basis, but there is one clear rule.
“Any blessing couldn’t have the appearance [as being] the same as marriage,” said Nathan Gibbard, a religious studies scholar and director of the Toronto Metropolitan Catholic Campus Ministry.
Aside from this marriage distinction, the details of these same-sex blessings are vague, according to Gibbard.
Without any strict guidance, the decision to bless same-sex couples is up to the individual discretion of a priest, said Dan Cantiller, who grew up in the Catholic Church and is the co-director of Positive Space, which fosters community for those identifying as LGBTQ+ at TMU.
“A Catholic’s experience might be very different based on their parish,” said Cantiller.
According to Gibbard, there is also no firm answer on who can get blessed.
“It’s not exactly clear if it’s offered to the couple or the individual. It’s very open,” said Gibbard.
This openness is partly because of the synod happening in the Catholic Church. Typically a synod has bishops meet to discuss issues facing the church, drafting a document to advise the Pope.
According to Gibbard, this current synod has global representatives, not just bishops, involved in the civil process and getting a say in the future of the church.
The other reason for the open-ended response on same-sex blessings is because of Pope Francis’s approach to the LGBTQ+ community.
“Part of his approach has consistently been to say… ‘How do we reach out a loving hand to people who have felt rejected by the church?’” said Gibbard.
For some Catholics, this attitude towards acceptance is enough.
He’s “emphasizing the values of the Catholic Church, that we must love one another,” said Aubrey Djauhari, a member of Toronto Met Catholics. “There is a place in the church for the LGBTQ+ community.”
Others remain disappointed by the Pope.
“His stance or support for the LGBTQ+ community has been inconsistent. Or maybe it has had glimmers of openings but not firm support or allyship,” said Cantiller. “It’s very hard for queer or trans Catholic people to feel fully themselves or fully seen in the eyes of the church.”
Although Pope Francis’s stance on same-sex blessings fell short for some Catholics in the queer community, the announcement was still significant.
It “can be extremely meaningful right? To even say ‘You’re seen, you’re acknowledged, you exist, you and your partner exist,’” said Cantiller.