[Editorial] Pope’s OK’ing of blessings for same-sex couples should be wake-up call for Korea

Posted on : 2023-12-21 17:24 KST Modified on : 2023-12-21 17:24 KST
Korean society is dragging its feet on this global shift, as evidenced by a Methodist pastor being defrocked earlier this month for performing blessings at an LGBTQ Pride event
Pope Francis waves from the balcony of the Vatican on Christmas, 2022. (AFP/Yonhap)
Pope Francis waves from the balcony of the Vatican on Christmas, 2022. (AFP/Yonhap)

The Vatican released a doctrinal document on Monday that officially authorizes Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples. The announcement marks a major shift in the Catholic Church’s long-standing taboo on homosexuality.

This decision shows that even conservative religions can no longer turn a blind eye to the rights of sexual and gender minorities, which have long been recognized as part and parcel of universal human rights.

This should serve as a wake-up call for societies and religious communities that are still lagging behind in terms of protecting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

At the heart of the declaration, titled “Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings,” issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope Francis, is the idea that no one should be excluded from a priest’s blessing.

“People who come spontaneously to ask for a blessing show by this request their sincere openness to transcendence, the confidence of their hearts that they do not trust in their own strength alone, their need for God, and their desire to break out of the narrow confines of this world, enclosed in its limitations,” the declaration states, calling for a move away from rigid formalism that excludes people from blessings on the grounds of doctrinal or moral flaws.

Pope Francis had previously hinted at a change in October, when he approved a document from the church’s ecumenical council which announced that transgender people could be baptized and become godparents.

The papal declaration is limited in that it does not recognize same-sex marriage per se. It came with the caveat that a priest's blessing should not be given in the same ceremony as a wedding, but in a separate gathering or encounter.

Nonetheless, the Vatican’s authorization of such blessings for same-sex couples is being hailed as a monumental and radical change in religious circles. Only two years ago, the Holy See had affirmed its position that same-sex unions could not be blessed.

Some Protestant denominations have taken even further steps by allowing same-sex marriages to be held in their churches and appointing LGBTQ clergy. The Catholic Church is known to be one of the most conservative denominations when it comes to the issue of sexual and gender minorities, which makes its choice to take a different tack on the issue noteworthy.

But Korean society is dragging its feet on this global shift. Only earlier this month, on Dec. 8, Rev. Lee Dong-hwan was defrocked from his position as pastor in a church tribunal for having carried out blessing ceremonies for sexual and gender minorities while participating in a queer Pride and culture festival. His offense: violating the church’s bylaws by “advocating or sympathizing with homosexuality.” That’s on top of Daegu Mayor Hong Joon-pyo having charges pressed on him for allegedly obstructing the Daegu Queer Culture Festival in June of this year.

That sex and gender minorities are continually exposed to homophobia, transphobia and many other forms of bigotry in Korea goes to show how backward our society still is. Whether it’s within the bounds of religion or out in the secular world, discrimination must be done away with.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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