Two same-sex couples become first to receive blessings from Catholic priest in Korea

Posted on : 2024-02-13 16:45 KST Modified on : 2024-02-13 17:10 KST
Two queer couples were blessed by Rev. Lee Seung-bok Raphael of the Claretian Missionaries in an unpublicized ceremony last month, the first known blessing of same-sex unions performed by the Catholic church in Korea
A Catholic priest blesses a same-sex couple at St. Benedict’s Church in Munich, Germany, on May 9, 2021. (AP/Yonhap)
A Catholic priest blesses a same-sex couple at St. Benedict’s Church in Munich, Germany, on May 9, 2021. (AP/Yonhap)

It has been belatedly revealed that a Catholic priest in Korea performed blessings of two same-sex couples on Jan. 20. This marks South Korea’s first known blessings of same-sex couples by the Korean church, following the Vatican’s release of a document that officially authorizes Catholic priests to bless non-heterosexual unions. 
 
Arcus, an organization of LGBTQ+ Catholics and their allies in Korea, revealed on Monday that Rev. Lee Seung-bok Raphael of the Claretian Missionaries blessed the organization’s co-founder Chris and her partner Ari, as well as another same-sex couple, identified as Yoo-yeon and Yoon-hae, on Jan. 20.
 
Chris and Ari were married in Canada in 2013, despite having South Korean nationality, and are known as the first same-sex couple to be recognized by Korean Air as eligible for family mileage benefits.
 
Yoo-yeon and Yoon-hae, who were also blessed, have been in a relationship since 2018 and participated in the New Year’s mass after seeing a relevant social media post.
 
The priest blessed the two couples after the mass, reciting a prayer based on the Old Testament’s Numbers 6:24-26. The prayer, which starts with the phrase, “May the Lord bless you and keep you,” is the same prayer used by Rev. James Martin, a Catholic priest in New York known for LGBTQ outreach, to bless same-sex couples.
 
“We are all, including LGBTQ people, the Lord’s beloved children. The Lord loves all beings as they are, and no one is excluded from his blessings,” Lee said.  
 
“I felt like I had become an unwelcome intruder in the church, but I am happy to be back in the Lord’s presence through the blessing,” shared Yoo-yeon about the experience. “I thank all the priests and sisters who are allies for opening up this path for us from the bottom of my heart.”
 
Chris commented, “Unlike a marriage ceremony, pastoral blessings can be given to anyone any number of times. I hope that same-sex couples and clergy within the Korean Catholic church feel like they can ask for and give blessings as often as they want, without feeling too pressured.”
 
Arcus is planning on continuing to receive applications from same-sex couples who wish to be blessed and connect them with Catholic priests.
 
Lee was able to bless these same-sex couples in accordance with the release of a doctrinal document, titled “Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings,” by the Vatican that officially authorizes Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples who seek to be blessed.
 
While the document did put a disclaimer differentiating these blessings from the sacrament of marriage, the document is being touted as a significant shift from the Catholic church’s previous policy in 2021, in which the church stated that same-sex couples could not be blessed since same-sex couples “would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing invoked on the man and woman united in the sacrament of Matrimony.” 

The Archdiocese of Seoul did not issue an official statement following the news regarding Lee’s blessing of same-sex couples. However, it is widely believed that since these blessings have been approved by the Vatican, the archdiocese will not be able to outwardly protest the priest’s actions.
 
South Korea’s first blessing of same-sex couples by a Catholic priest, bolstered by the Vatican’s inclusive stance, was held in an undisclosed location, and was only made public 10 days after the actual ceremony.
 
“We were worried that if the location was disclosed, it would be attacked by homophobic forces,” said an official at Arcus.
 
Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is still rife within the conservative South Korean religious community. Most of the largest Protestant denominations in Korea, such as the Presbyterian Church in Korea (HapDong), Presbyterian Church of Korea (TongHap), and the Korean Methodist Church, have officially codified bylaws that exclude and/or punish sexual and gender minorities and their allies.
 
Only last December, the Korean Methodist Church sentenced Rev. Lee Dong-hwan, who led a blessing ceremony for LGBTQ+ people at the second Incheon Pride Parade in 2019, to the highest punishment in the church: excommunication.
 
Their reasoning was based on the fact that the pastor’s actions violated Article 3(8) of the church’s Book of Doctrines and Discipline, which prohibits “advocating or sympathizing with homosexuality.”

By Chai Yoon-tae, staff reporter

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