But the new rule made clear that a blessing of a same-sex couple was not the same as a marriage sacrament, a formal ceremonial rite. It also stressed that it was not blessing the relationship, and that, to avoid confusion, blessings should not be imparted during or connected to the ceremony of a civil or same-sex union, or when there are “any clothing, gestures or words that are proper to a wedding.”
What does it mean to bless a couple without blessing that couple’s relationship? Millions of words will be expended in the coming months to try to explain this, but I can guarantee that none of them will make sense. The Pope has put his church in a completely untenable, incoherent, radically unstable position. From here it will have to go back to the traditional teaching or ahead to something wholly unprecedented. And I can’t imagine a retreat, not by this Pope.
Francis has not spoken ex cathedra here — this is not like, for instance, Munificentissimus Deus. But it’s a big thing, and if the incoherence is rectified by further acceptance of same-sex unions, then some really fancy theological dancing will have to be performed to avoid having to admit that the historic dogma on sex and marriage was simply wrong. And if a future Pope walks this back, then a similarly complicated dance will have to be done to reconcile the repudiation of Francis’s teaching with the dogma that the Pope is guided and directed by the Holy Spirit even when making ordinary — not ex cathedra — arguments and policies. It’s hard to see how historic Catholic teaching on marriage and historic Catholic teaching on papal authority can emerge unscathed from this.
Is Francis now the most consequential pope in the history of Roman Catholicism? I am inclined to say Yes.