Priest Who Blessed Lesbian Couple’s Love Now Facing Church Sanctions

Fr. José García with Carmen and Lucia

A Spanish priest is facing disciplinary sanctions after blessing a same-gender couple the day before their civil marriage.

Fr. José García held a “blessing of love” for Carmen and Lucia at Saint Bartholemew Church in Onda, Spain. The July 30th ceremony was attended by their family and friends. García explained the women sought to “celebrate the love they have for God and the love which exists between them,” according to the blog Dos ManzanasThe couple was married in a civil ceremony the next day.

This blessing became public in late August when a conservative Spanish new outlet posted about it, eliciting a response from the Diocese of Segorbe-Castellón. Acknowledging first that lesbian and gay people should not be discriminated against, the diocese’s statement quoted Pope Francis in saying “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family [Amoris Laetitia, no. 251].”

According to the statement. Fr. García was then visited by both the diocese’s Vicar General and Bishop Casmiro López Llorent who demanded an explanation from the priest. The diocese said Fr. García admitted to the bishop the “grave error” of his actions, saying they were motivated by “an erroneous application of mercy” that “did not distinguish the welcome and pastoral accompaniment of persons” from what may seem like approval of same-gender marriage.

The statement reported that the priest apologized to people who considered the blessing scandalous, and he promised not to act similarly in the future. But recanting is seemingly not enough for Bishop López, reported Euro Weekly. The diocese has opened a canonical investigation against Fr. García to see whether formal sanctions should be applied for blessing the love between two people.

Critics of the diocese’s actions have noted the differing speeds with which this case and clerical sexual abuse allegations have been dealt with. Loottis, a Spanish LGBT blog, wrote:

“What is amazing is the speed with which the diocese of Segorbe-Castellón has reacted to this case and in contrast to other scandals which starred members of the Church as happened with the scandal of ‘The Romanones’ in Granada in which several priests were accused of abusing minors for years and the Spanish hierarchy hurried from the first moment to preserve the innocence of the priests involved.”

Loottis noted, too, that Bishop López has made LGBT-negative remarks in the past. In 2013, he said marriage equality had led to a “significant increase in children with severe personality disturbances” and that families led by lesbian and gay people created environments that “frequently ends in violence.”

It is quite sad that the diocese has punished Fr. García so severely, and that more sanctions may be coming. Media reports have been limited to the diocese’s account as the priest has either largely chosen to keep quiet or been silenced. But the limited statements he has made, explaining this incident as a blessing that celebrates love of God and between two people speaks volumes.

If the church blesses animals, ships, church vestments, eggs, and so much more, why are ministers barred from blessing the holy love that exists between two people? The hierarchy’s opposition to same-gender marriages is well known. But blessing love and supporting couples is precisely the type of pastoral accompaniment to which Pope Francis has called the church, even if such relationships do not conform to the heteronormative standards of the Magisterium. There is no love which is wrong, and there is no love outside God’s embrace.

The good news is that God clearly blesses the love between Carmen and Lucia, and their desire to have that love blessed in the church acknowledges their reciprocal love for God. Priests should not be punished for recognizing these realities, and being good pastoral ministers to LGBT people who have been marginalized. The only “grave error” in this incident will be if the canonical investigation now underway were to imperil Fr. García’s priesthood because he was simply a good priest.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: April 17, 2014

NewsHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) The Catholic island nation of Malta passed legislation approving civil unions for same-gender couples, according to Gay Star News.  Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, a Maltese Catholic bishop, who had at one time spoke favorably about same-gender relationships, was one of the prime spokesperson’s for the local Catholic hierarchy opposing the new law.

2) Catholics in Spain are strongly in support of that nation’s marriage equality law, which was enacted in 2005, according to a new survey.  reported on the survey which also noted that in two Catholic nations where same-gender marriage is not legal, the majority of believers oppose such a policy:  in Italy, 66%;  in Poland, 78%.

Mother Teresa

3) Mother Teresa is featured on the website for the United Nations’ Free and Equal program which supports non-discrimination for LGBT people around the globe.  When one clicks on her image on the homepage, one is brought to a photo of Mother Teresa under the headline “Mother Teresa Helps Us to Remember What’s Important.”   Superimposed over her photo is a quote from the universally-revered champion of the poor:  “What can you do to promote world peace?  Go home and love your family.”  The photo with the quotation can be shared on Facebook and other social media platforms.

4) The National Catholic Reporter noted that the Vatican has appointed a bishop to investigate the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Keith O’Brien, formerly the primate of Scotland, who resigned last year when he acknowledged sexual liaisons with men who became priests in his diocese.  O’Brien made headlines for speaking out strongly against marriage equality in Scotland.  The bishop who will be leading the investigation is Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna, mentioned in the first news note above.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Cardinals’ Ignorance of Homosexuality Will Lead to Violence and Human Rights Abuses

Sometimes ignorance on a topic is to be pitied, and the best response to it is not anger, but an effort to educate the person with more accurate information.  But we must not forget that ignorance can cause great damage because it can blossom into attitudes and policies which lead to violence and human rights abuses.  The public statements of two Catholic leaders recently illustrate these principles.

Cardinal Fernando Sebastian

In Spain, Cardinal Fernando Sebastian, who is the retired archbishop of Pamplona, gave an interview to Diario Sur newspaper in which he called homosexuality a “defect” that can be cured. [Note: the previous link will bring you to the original Spanish-language interview.]  New York’s Daily News reported on the Spanish interview:

” ‘Homosexuality is a defective manner of expressing sexuality, because this has a structure and a purpose, which is procreation,’ he said in an interview to Diario Sur.

” ‘A homosexual who can’t achieve this (procreation) is failing,’ he added, before saying, ‘Our bodies have many defects. I have high blood pressure.’

Sebastian said it was ‘a defect I have to try and correct in whatever way I can.’

” ‘To say that homosexuality is a defect is not an insult: it helps because in many cases of homosexuality it is possible to recover and become normal with the right treatment.’ “

Such comments betray the depth of the ignorance which is obviously at work in the minds of many church leaders.  It is shocking and pitiable, and it helps us to see why church teaching and practice is so harsh on LGBT issues.  This ignorance needs to be corrected, not only for the cardinal’s sake, but for the sake of LGBT people throughout the world.

Cardinal John Oniyekan

A case which shows how lack of understanding LGBT issues can be harmful came out in the headlines in the African nation of Nigeria, which last week enacted a law which outlawed same-sex marriage and also outlawed the establishment of gay and lesbian organizations.Soon after the law was signed, Nigeria’s Cardinal John Oniyekan stated that he supported the measure.  According to

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan, has commended Nigeria’s Federal Government for its uncompromising stand on the anti-gay law in spite of criticisms from a section of the international community.

“Onaiyekan, briefing newsmen on activities to mark his 70th birthday in Abuja on Friday, said Nigeria, being an independent country, should stand firm on its culture, tradition and morals.

“ ‘The church accepts people as they are, we condemn homosexuality, Nigeria is an independent country and we do not beg for food.’ “

The cardinal, like many in Nigeria, have framed the issue of homosexuality as one where Western liberal nations are trying to impose their values on African culture, hence his comment about not begging for food.  But the cardinal seems ignorant of the basics of Catholic social teaching which respects the dignity, equality, and liberty of all people–even those with whom one might disagree.  While he certainly has an obligation to respect Nigerian culture, he also has an obligation to defend Catholic principles on basic human rights.

Bishop Hassan Kukah of Nigeria’s Sokoto Diocese also publicly supported the new anti-gay law.

One needs to ask if these bishops have learned nothing from history.  Whenever laws have restricted people’s freedoms or viewed certain groups as second class citizens, it doesn’t take long for violence and human rights abuses to occur. Nazi Germany and Jim Crow America spring quickly to mind.  Laws which restrict freedom or create second class categories give people permission to enact hateful acts.  When religious leaders voice their support of such laws or promote misguided theories about people’s lives, they not only give permission for people to commit hateful acts, but, in fact, they encourage such behavior.

Pope Francis has indicated a more respectful attitude toward LGBT people than any of his predecessors had ever done.  Some people have wondered how he will put that attitude into practice.  One way he can begin is by educating bishops, cardinals, and other church leaders about the basic facts of sexual orientation and the basic principles of Catholic social teaching.  Without such education, their ignorance will fuel violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people.

Ignorance may be pitied, but it cannot be tolerated.  Too many lives hang in the balance.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Continues to Respond to Marriage Equality Victories

On Saturday, Bondings 2.0 reported about a front-page article in the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano newspaper which continued the Holy See’s opposition to marriage equality in the United States and Europe.  It was significant that the article appeared only a few days after the U.S. witnessed four electoral victories for marriage equality.

The newspaper article is now joined by an editorial on Vatican Radio from Father Federico Lombardi, the main Vatican spokesperson. A Reuters article contained excerpts:

” ‘It is clear that in Western countries there is a widespread tendency to modify the classic vision of marriage between a man and woman, or rather to try to give it up, erasing its specific and privileged legal recognition compared to other forms of union,’ Father Federico Lombardi, said in a tough editorial on Vatican Radio. . . .

“Lombardi’s editorial on Vatican Radio, which is broadcast around the world in some 30 languages, called the votes myopic, saying ‘the logic of it cannot have a far-sighted outlook for the common good.’

“Lombardi, who is also the Vatican’s chief spokesman as well as director of Vatican Radio and Vatican Television, said there was ‘public acknowledgement’ that ‘monogamous marriage between a man and woman is an achievement of civilization.’

” ‘If not, why not contemplate also freely chosen polygamy and, of course, not to discriminate, polyandry?’ he said.”  [Polygamy refers to a man with multiple wives; polyandry refers to a woman with multiple husbands.]

According to a Vatican Radio news story about the editorial, Lombardi identified three recent stories which prompted the editorial:

“. . .in recent days there have been three worrying events concerning legislation on marriage. In Spain, the Constitutional Court has refused an appeal that challenged the existing law, which excludes all reference to the difference between a man and a woman and simply mentions spouse A and B; this remains then the situation. In France, the Government has presented a bill for the transformation of marriage, so as to include same-sex marriage. In the United States, some of the referendums held on the same day as the presidential elections in various States have, for the first time, delivered an outcome favourable to same-sex marriages.”

Obviously, there is a contradiction in Lombardi’s statements.  There can’t be “public acknowledgement” that heterosexual marriage is the desired norm if so many governments and voters are acknowledging that it is not.

Lombardi’s reference to polygamy and polyandry are inflammatory rhetoric which seems designed to incite fear rather than to argue the facts of the case.  None of the marriage equality initiatives in the U.S. or Europe–or anywhere, for that matter–have included any concession to polygamy or polyandry.  Why does that continue to be brought up as an argument?  It certainly should be below the integrity of such a high-ranking official to raise those specters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry