Members of the LGBTQ+ community were elated on the historic move of Pope Francis to grant them a ‘blessing,’ a move closer to their demand of full Catholic recognition. (PHOTO COURTESY)

TACLOBAN CITY-Faithful from Catholic-rich Philippines have expressed elation over the new Vatican ruling which allows the Catholic priests to administer blessings to same-sex couples as long as this is not part of the Church’s traditional doctrine and liturgical rites about marriage.

“It’s a good step towards recognizing the needs of the community. This is a good step from the Catholic Church knowing their stance towards LGBT+ couples who seek marriage. I hope this is the beginning of a more inclusive Church in the coming years,” said Gio Costuna, 23, a member of an LGBTQ Pride group in Tacloban City.

“It may take several years for Church to give the other needs of the LGBTQ, but this one is a nice step,” he added.

While the Vatican’s move to allow blessings for same-sex couples can be seen through polarizing lenses, a 31-year-old Filipino educator said that he sees the ruling “as a progressive step towards inclusivity, opening the arms of acceptance and understanding regarding the long-term controversies on human sexuality, morality, and tradition.”
“Further, this unfastens a democratic and broader discourse on the evolving social norms, which may free us from dogmatic, condemnatory, and exclusive mindsets,” said the educator and LGBTQ member, who goes by another name.

“I think the Church wants to be safe because LGBTs are very vocal about their so-called rights. They even use social media as their platform for airing their claims. There is nothing wrong if the Church is being inclusive. Again, the LGBTQs are still humans and are still welcome in any religion they want to practice,” added Wendell Astrero, 48, and a member of the LGBTQ community in Palo,Leyte.

Redemptorist priest Ferderiz Bacong Cantiller, CSsR, who works at the vocations ministry at the Redemptorist headquarters in Cebu City, maintained that he has been giving blessing to same-sex couple “all the time in the confessional,” even before the new Vatican ruling came out.

“The intention [of Pope Francis’ ‘Fiducia Supplicans’ (‘Supplicating Trust’)]’ is to clarify it more and give clear guidance,” he said.

“It is God who imparts His graces and blessings, not us. He is the fount and source of every blessing. Every Christian (and that includes priests) imparts blessing as ‘channels’ of God’s graces. We bless any good creature. We even bless pets (of course, the owner of the pets),” he added.

According to the Redemptorist priest, it is beautiful to channel that blessing to others and make them feel God loves them too inspite of their predicament and tough situations and to encourage them never to lose hope and remain where they are.

“Our blessing can point them to our goal of fullness of life in Jesus Christ and that demands carrying our crosses and making every little step towards conversion from sin and wholeness. That is our mission to encourage them and impart Gospel friendship so we can bring them to conversion,” Cantiller said.

Push for same-sex marriage continues

Reverend Crescencio Agbayani Jr., the pastor of Quezon City-based LGBTS Christian Church Inc., continued to remind the critics of same-sex marriage, as more lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBTS) have come forward for a holy union rite despite the strong opposition, particularly from the Catholic Church.

Following the new Vatican ruling, Agbayani Jr. maintained that “only two will happen in the Roman Catholic Church: The number of members increased or decreased after Pope Francis allowed same-sex couples to be blessed by priests.”

“For me, I will have more [ LGBTQ couples who will ask for marriage blessing],” he wrote online.

Having been educated at the Union Theological Seminary in Cavite with Master of Divinity in Christianity and Culture and awarded the Bishop La Verne Mercado Award in Ecumenics, Agbayani Jr. has been officiating almost 6,000 same-sex holy union rites in the Philippines and other countries in Asia since 2006.

While the Philippine government has yet to recognize the right of LGBT couples to civil marriage, Agbayani Jr. said they remain “very positive” that same-sex couples in the Philippines will get marriage equality in the coming years.

“If we’ll be lost, then will start again. We’re not going to give up until we’ll achieve the same legal rights as any other couple. LGBT couples are family, too,” Agbayani told this writer in an earlier interview.

Meanwhile, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, reiterated that the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith approved by Pope Francis on Dec. 18 “is clear in its content and intent.

“Basically, it elaborates ‘On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings’. The document speaks for itself, and therefore does not require much explanation,” the bishop said.

In paragraph 41 of the said declaration, it says, “What has been said in this Declaration regarding the blessings of same-sex couples is sufficient to guide the prudent and fatherly discernment of ordained ministers in this regard. Thus, beyond the guidance provided above, no further responses should be expected about possible ways to regulate details or practicalities regarding blessings of this type.”

The document has an introduction where the Prefect of the said dicastery, Victor Manuel Cardinal Fernandez points out that “this declaration remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion.”