Pope Francis this week addressed the intense backlash from African Catholic leaders over the Vatican’s recent openness to blessings for same-sex couples, defending his push for a more “inclusive” church while calling Africa’s position a “special case.”
African Bishops Speak Out Against Vatican Same-Sex Blessing Stance
Last week, a coalition of African bishops conferences released a bold statement opposing the Vatican’s move to allow blessings for same-sex couples in some cases. The statement slammed the Vatican’s guidance on this issue, accusing it of doctrinal errors and indirectly promoting same-sex marriage against Scripture and tradition.
“The text invites us to error, deceives the faithful and directly contradicts the Holy Scriptures, the word of God,” Ambongo wrote regarding the Vatican text on same-sex blessings.
These African churches warned they will refuse to implement any Vatican rules approving same-sex blessings in their continent, where homosexuality remains illegal in many countries.
Pope Addresses Controversy, Defends “Pastoral” Approach
This Sunday, Pope Francis addressed the swelling controversy for the first time publicly.
Speaking to reporters on his flight home from South Sudan, Francis defended the Vatican’s decree on same-sex blessings as an attempt to be “pastoral” and ensure “these people feel part of the Church.”
“The pastoral purpose of the Church does not mean to include or not, but to include everyone,” the Pope said. “If we look at this from the pastoral point of view, the Church must create conditions for everyone…It is a pastoral thing. No more.”
However, he appeared to sympathize with the strong opposition from African bishops, calling their stance against homosexuality a “special case.”
“In Africa they have taboos, customs that are still very much patriarchal. But they are a special case and we have to keep making progress,” Francis said.
The Pope also denied that the Vatican decree formally approved same-sex marriages, arguing it only concerned individual blessings. “It is not about approving a homosexual union, absolutely not,” he said.
Still, he suggested that with time, wider acceptance of homosexuality may take hold.
“There will be, on everyone’s part, a gradual understanding,” Francis said. “Because social events bring about change in religious matters.”
Mixed Response Among Bishops Globally
Bishops worldwide have offered varied reactions revealing deep divides in the Church hierarchy regarding the appropriate approach to homosexuality.
Spanish Archbishop Juan José Omella said firmly, “I am not going to bless even one homosexual union.”
Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet endorsed the Vatican view as a “call to welcome homosexual persons.”
Prominent Chinese Cardinal Joseph Zen urged the Vatican’s doctrinal chief to resign over the “atastrophic effects” of the decree.
What Comes Next?
This raging debate seems unlikely to fade soon inside the Catholic hierarchy regarding hot-button social changes in sexuality and marriage.
With Pope Francis doubling down on his pastoral approach despite African objections, some predict growing fractures between geographical factions of the global Church.
“We run the risk of schism even in the Catholic Church,” warned Ghanaian priest Father Peter Sarpong this week, urging urgent dialogue to settle these divisions.
Upcoming regional Catholic meetings in Mexico and Portugal could see sustained challenges to Vatican authority on issues like homosexuality and women’s leadership as local churches push for more independence.
Some Vatican officials have floated modifying Church canon law to decentralize power on controversial issues to national bishops conferences. However, opponents argue this would undermine claims to universal doctrines.
For now, all eyes remain fixed on Pope Francis as he navigates formidable headwinds in his quest to build a more inclusive Catholicism aligned with modern social change.
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