Tuesday 23 January 2024

Fr. James Alison: LGBTQ+ Blessings Will Expand Inclusion While Preserving Unity

“The Church is for sinners.” 

With this statement, gay priest and theologian James Alison summarizes the underlying message of Fiducia Supplicans and explains the document’s significance will “open a way forward that will allow LGBT Catholics to be listened to on their own terms while maintaining the unity of the Church.”

In The Tablet, Alison interprets the Vatican declaration, which approved blessings for same-gender couples, by referring to the text as Pope Francis’ way of laying out the “‘rules of the game’ by which Catholicity is to be lived in such a way as to keep its unity.”

Alison identifies ”the rules” that Pope Francis has followed in composing the document like this: “First: establish a firmly conservative account of the traditional teaching. Next: stretch almost to breaking point everything permissible under that account.”

Fiducia Supplicans did not create any new doctrine, Alison explains. In fact, to do so would be outside of the purview of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), which was responsible for producing the document. Instead, the significance of Fiducia Supplicans lies in the approach that it models:

“Leave official teaching where it is, at least for the moment, but never use it to judge others, for that is the way to hell. Meanwhile, learn to perceive people you might have despised as ‘blessable’ rather than ‘contemptible’, and then let God’s subtle grace sort out the efficacy of blessing in their – our – lives, and what we can learn from each other about who we really are.”

This approach aligns with Francis’ emphasis on synodality, a process guided “much more through personal relationships than through official teaching.” 

Alison predicts that progress will move “slowly but quietly” toward the acceptance “that we LGBT people are not defective straight people.” 

The process will almost certainly “advance far too slowly for those of us living in some countries, and far too rapidly for those living in others.” Nonetheless, Alison says, “advance it will.”

This slow progress is inevitable due to the global nature of the Catholic Church. Alison acknowledges, “It will take time, because changes in relationship, taking place in so many different cultures and at different speeds, cannot be skipped over by imposing new teaching without grave risk of schism.” 

The stakes are high, as evidenced from the fact that “there is no major Christian body that has been able to deal with this matter without the threat, or actuality, of schism.”

Alison points to Fiducia Supplicans as the Vatican’s way of creating “a sort of walking canopy under which we are all invited to engage the process of working through consciences.” 

He applauds “the genius” of Fiducia Supplicans because it  “climbs out of the labyrinth ‘from above’ by using a reflection on blessings to manifest a practical Catholic account of the abundance of grace.” 

If Pope Francis is marking out a shared path for the Church to walk in unity on LGBTQ+ issues, he is choosing to do so by “extend[ing grace] in the maximum possible degree: to all of us.”