Cardinal Fernández meets with Coptic Church leader over same-sex blessing rift

Cardinal Fernández meets with Coptic Church leader over same-sex blessing rift

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria. / Credit: Vatican Media; ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 23, 2024 / 18:01 pm (CNA).

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, who heads the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), met with the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church to discuss a rift caused by the recent Vatican declaration that permits nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples.

In March — less than three months after the DDF published the declaration Fiducia Supplicans — the Coptic Orthodox Church suspended dialogue with the Catholic Church amid concerns about the blessings. In a meeting with Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria on Wednesday, May 22, Fernández sought to ease some of those tensions.

Fernández told Tawadros during the meeting that the Catholic Church remains opposed to marriage blessings for same-sex couples and emphasized that nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples cannot be performed in a way that would confuse the blessing with a marriage, according to the Holy See’s official news organization Vatican News.

The cardinal further affirmed that the Holy See agrees with the Coptic Orthodox Church’s March 7 statement, which affirmed the “firm position of rejecting all forms of homosexual relationships, because they violate the holy Bible and the law by which God created man as male and female” and added that “the [Coptic] Church considers any blessing of such relations, whatever its type, to be a blessing for sin, and this is unacceptable.”

According to Vatican News, Fernández pointed to a clarification issued by the DDF in early January, which emphasized that the declaration did not change Church teaching on marriage or sexuality. He also told Tawadros that the blessings are not provided to the union itself and that they must be spontaneous and brief, without any rite or liturgical vestments.

The cardinal added that these nonliturgical pastoral blessings are available to every person, regardless of the person’s condition, and does not impart “sanctifying grace” but does provide “actual graces” that push sinners toward conversion and maturation, according to the article.

According to a news release issued by the Coptic Church, Tawadros told Fernández there is a path of love between the two churches and an importance of dialogue.

Pope Francis met with Tawadros in May 2023 to mark the 50-year anniversary of restored relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church. However, since March, formal ecumenical dialogue remains suspended.

In May 2023, Francis also added 21 Coptic martyrs who were killed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria into the liturgical book of saints.

The Coptic Church is Oriental Orthodox. The division between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches occurred in the mid-400s after the Council of Chalcedon amid Christological disputes about the natures of Christ.

The Vatican declaration on nonliturgical blessings for same-sex couples has elicited controversy from within the Catholic Church as well. Although some bishops approved of the declaration, numerous bishops voiced concerns with the document, particularly bishops in Africa.

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