Editorial: SF archbishop needs to follow pope's directive

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday January 3, 2024
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San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. Photo: Courtesy Archdiocese of San Francisco
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone. Photo: Courtesy Archdiocese of San Francisco

Sure, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone will tell the public that he is following Pope Francis' recent directive to allow priests to bless couples in same-sex relationships. But as we discovered this week, Cordileone is sneaking around the backdoor with a three-page memorandum to diocesan priests outlining five instructions, which includes that a priest may determine not to give such a blessing.

This is outrageous, but not surprising. Cordileone has been a staunch homophobe long before he was named head of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. As soon as the news of the pope's directive, Fiducia Suplicans, was announced December 18, we suspected that Cordileone would come up with some reason for why he shouldn't have to follow it. The Vatican should be displeased with this development.

Each of Cordileone's five "instructions" is disingenuous; some, in our opinion, fly in the face of what was written in the Vatican document by Argentine Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández and approved by Pope Francis. The Vatican document states that same-sex couples can be blessed but the blessings have to be done in such a manner that they are not confused with marriage, which the church teaches can only be between one man and one woman. The blessings also cannot be in the context of the liturgy, as marriages are.

Cordileone starts his instructions by stating that the blessings cannot be pre-planned or pre-scheduled but must be given spontaneously, like if a same-sex couple just decides on a whim to have a blessing. He then goes on to state that "if it is evident that they are not in the bond of a valid marriage, it is always licit to bless them as two separate individuals." However, this is not what the Vatican document says. It explicitly refers to the blessing of same-sex couples, not individuals.

The archbishop also notes that in some cases, same-sex blessings cannot be given "if it would be a cause of scandal, that is, if it would mislead either the individuals themselves or others into believing that there may be contexts other than marriage in which 'sexual relations find their natural, proper, and fully human meaning.'" Now, we think most same-sex couples seeking a Catholic priest's blessing — and the priests themselves — are fully aware that these blessings, while a monumental shift for the church, do not represent marriage in the eyes of the church. Yet here is Cordileone stating that priests don't have to give the blessings because same-sex sexual relations are not, in the church's view, "natural and proper." Again, that is not what the Vatican document says.

We reported this week that Francis DeBernardo, the director of New Ways Ministry, an affinity group for LGBTQ Catholics, questioned why Cordileone's memo was necessary.

"The Vatican's instructions for blessing same-gender couples offered a clear set of parameters for how, when, and what priests are supposed to do when people request such blessings," DeBernardo stated. "The instructions were very clear and detailed, and so it seems that Archbishop Cordileone's additional comments, including a warning about scandal, were unnecessary. The archbishop's warning may cause priests to be reluctant to give such blessings when asked, and may also cause some couples to be wary of asking for them."

That is exactly Cordileone's goal. What he accomplishes with this memo is to instill a sense of doubt and fear into priests so that they will hem and haw and not provide the blessings, or that same-sex couples will be reluctant to ask for one.

But Cordileone should be careful. After all, in November, Pope Francis removed Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, who had clashed publicly with the pope over social and theological issues, as the Texas Standard reported. In his case, Strickland reportedly stated on social media last summer that the pope was undermining the Catholic faith. It is extremely rare for a pope to remove a bishop; usually they may be nudged into retirement, and while a reason wasn't publicly given, Strickland was known as a vocal critic of the pope.

What Cordileone has done here is stealthier. His memo references the Vatican document in several places and even writes that his instructions are "supplemental" to the document, a clever way of seeming to go along with it while simultaneously giving a wink-nod as if to say, "You know, you don't really have to do this and let me show you how." What he has done is undermine the language and intent of Fiducia Suplicans by supplying priests with an escape clause for bestowing blessings.

Cardinal Fernandez, the author of the pope's directive, stated in a recent interview in the Catholic publication The Pillar that "we do not deny a blessing" even to someone who is a "great sinner."

"Since it is not a question of the sacrament of confession, but of a simple blessing, it is still asked that this friendship be purified, matured, and lived in fidelity to the gospel," Fernández stated. "And even if there was some kind of sexual relationship, known or not, the blessing made in this way does not validate or justify anything. Actually the same thing happens whenever individuals are blessed, because that individual who asks for a blessing — not absolution — may be a great sinner, but we do not deny a blessing to him."

Cordileone has long opposed same-sex marriage. He was in the forefront of the Yes on Prop 8 campaign back in 2008. In San Diego at the time, he led a procession into Qualcomm Stadium for a religious event featuring the A-list of Christian conservatives that sought to encourage people to vote for the discriminatory measure. It's been reported that Cordileone helped raise $1.5 million to put Prop 8 on the ballot. While that anti-same-sex marriage law has thankfully been history since 2013, there will be a constitutional amendment on the ballot this November to rid the "zombie" language of Prop 8 from the state's governing document.

Cordileone likely will speak out on the opposing side, and this latest missive of his is just one more way to disparage same-sex couples. This time, however, with the Vatican's approval of blessings for same-sex couples, he's going against what his own church leadership has declared to be a permitted matter.

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