Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, is pictured in a March 25, 2022, photo. OSV News photo/Ukrainian Catholic Church

'No' to same-sex blessings, say two Eastern Catholic bishops

By  Gina Christian, OSV News
  • January 9, 2024

The apostolic administrator of Toronto’s Byzantine Catholic Eparchy has joined with a Ukrainian archbishop in rejecting a controversial Vatican document on pastoral blessings for same-sex couples and other unmarried couples.

Bishop Kurt Burnette of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Passaic, New Jersey, and apostolic administrator of the Phoenix and Toronto eparchies, along with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, provided detailed responses on behalf of their respective sees to "Fiducia Supplicans" ("Supplicating Trust"), which was released Dec. 18 by the Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The declaration, subtitled "On the pastoral meaning of blessings," concluded that priests could offer "spontaneous" and "non-liturgical" pastoral blessings upon request to those in same-sex unions or couples in "irregular situations." At the same time, the text — which was signed by dicastery prefect Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández and secretary Msgr. Armando Matteo and approved by Pope Francis — affirmed the Church's teaching on marriage.

"Fiducia Supplicans" garnered a range of reactions among Catholic clergy and faithful — from praise to confusion to anger — and prompted a Jan. 4 Vatican press release from Fernández urging "a full and calm reading" of the text.

Burnette released a four-page message titled "Some Thoughts and Guidance on the Publication of 'Fiducia Supplicans,' ” agreeing with Shevchuk that the declaration, as a liturgical guideline, was not applicable to the Byzantine rite according to canon law. The bishop also underscored the distinction between the Eastern and Western Catholic understandings of the sacrament of matrimony.

"In the West, couples marry each other by the exchange of consent," said Burnette. "By ancient tradition and by current laws of the Church, in the East, a couple is married sacramentally by the blessing of a presbyter/priest."

He noted that Eastern Catholic churches of the Constantinopolitan tradition also employ a crowning ceremony to signify the priest's blessing upon the sacrament of matrimony (or at times upon a renewal of vows), and warned that "a crowning ceremony performed for a couple that cannot be married in the Catholic Church is a crime … under canon law," known as "simulating a sacrament."

"All parties are guilty of the crime, but the priest will be hurt the most," said Burnette. "Please do not be misled. Even without a crowning, one might commit the crime of simulating a sacrament by giving the appearance of blessing an unlawful union."

Burnette said that "presbyter/priests in recent years in our (Eastern Catholic) Churches in the United States have been excommunicated and involuntarily laicized for attempting to marry two males." He urged laypeople to "take care not to compromise a priest by encouraging him to do something he is forbidden to do by the Church or by Divine Law or by his conscience."

"God gave us His Law because He loves us and desires to protect us," said Burnette.

In a communiqué released Dec. 22, Shevchuk — who leads one of the 23 Eastern Catholic churches that, together with the Latin Church, comprise the universal Catholic Church — said the declaration "applies solely to the Latin Church, not the Eastern Catholic churches."

He cited as the basis for his decision Canon 1492 of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches (abbreviated as CCEO, according to its Latin title), which was promulgated under St. John Paul II in 1990. That code, along with the 1983 Code of Canon Law, form the Catholic Church's primary governing documents.

Canon 1492 of the CCEO specifies that laws enacted by the pope that do not expressly indicate otherwise affect Eastern Catholics only "insofar as they treat matters of faith or morals or declarations of divine law," or if "they grant a favour which contains nothing contrary to the Eastern rites."

"The declaration … interprets the pastoral meaning of blessings in the Latin Church, not the Eastern Catholic churches," said Shevchuk. "It does not address questions of Catholic faith or morality, refer to any precepts of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches … or refer to Eastern Christians."

Stressing that the CCEO safeguards the unique "liturgical, theological, canonical and spiritual heritage" of the Eastern Catholic churches, he noted that "the meaning of 'blessing' in the UGCC (Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church) and the Latin Church is different.”

While "Fiducia Supplicans" allows for a "non-liturgical" variant, in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church "the blessing of a priest or bishop is a liturgical gesture that cannot be separated from the rest of the content of the liturgical rites and reduced to the circumstances and needs of private piety," said Shevchuk, referencing "Christ Our Pascha," the catechism of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. "Christ Our Pascha" was published in 2011 by Shevchuk in response to St. John Paul II's call for the development of additional "local catechisms" for the Eastern Catholic churches, following the pope's 1992 publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Shevchuk also noted in his statement that "according to the traditions of the Byzantine rite, the concept of 'blessing' means approval, permission or even an order for a specific type of action, prayer and ascetic practices, including certain types of fasting and prayer." Since "the blessing of a priest always has an evangelizing and catechetical dimension," he said, "pastoral discernment urges us to avoid ambiguous gestures, statements and concepts that would distort or misrepresent God's word and the teachings of the Church."

Last modified on January 11, 2024

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.