IBA and IBAHRI express disappointment at Vatican decision to deny blessings for same-sex unions

Tuesday 1 December 2020

The International Bar Association (IBA) and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) express disappoint and concern at the decision of the Holy See – the universal government of the Catholic Church – not to allow the conferring of blessings on same-sex unions. The IBA and IBAHRI urge reconsideration and the reopening of dialogue to eliminate discrimination and the outlawing of homosexuality in certain jurisdictions.

IBA President Sternford Moyo stated: ‘Although the Holy See’s recently published responsum concerning same-sex unions is measured and does not advocate discrimination against homosexual individuals, it poses the threat of legitimising continued discrimination, with sometimes fatal outcomes. Criminal laws remain in place across approximately 70 countries, negatively impacting civic perceptions of justice and human rights. Refusing to bless same-sex unions goes against the message of inclusivity and tolerance towards homosexual individuals.  The IBA respectfully requests advancing dialogue on the issues.’

On 22 February 2021, Pope Francis gave an audience to the Holy See’s Secretary of Congregation to discuss a dubium, questioning whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless unions between persons of the same sex engaging in sexual intercourse.

On 15 March, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – the Vatican office responsible for preserving the doctrine of the Catholic Church – issued a formal response to the doctrinal question. Approved by Pope Francis, the responsum stated the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions: ‘[while] God loves every person, and the Church does the same […] there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.’ The note distinguished between the church's welcoming and blessing of gay people, which it upheld, but not their relationships.

The Holy See’s statement was unexpected by IBA and IBAHRI representatives who, on 5 April 2019, had met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State, as they sought Pope Francis’ aid in decriminalising homosexuality. At the conclusion of that meeting, Cardinal Parolin agreed to pass on to Pope Francis what was discussed and to further the dialogue concerning the Church and homosexuality.

IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis commented: ‘The Holy See’s pronouncement rejecting blessings for same-sex unions is very disappointing. It allows for the continuation of anti-homosexuality laws that can lead to state-sanctioned murder and imprisonment of homosexuals in certain jurisdictions. It is deeply regrettable that what is so freely given to heterosexuals is denied to homosexuals, when the sexuality of each is equally innate to their being. When we met with Cardinal Parolin, he acknowledged “much common ground” between the matters advanced by the delegation and the position of the Holy See, including the need to uphold human dignity. We call for conversation to build on that commutuality.’

IBAHRI Co-Chair the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG said: ‘It is most regrettable that we were not afforded the opportunity to converse with Pope Francis or further with Cardinal Parolin following our meeting in 2019. There are still many issues in need of discussion concerning global law reform to address the challenges of ongoing violence and discrimination against global LGBTQI+ communities. The “negative” response in the responsum will make it infinitely more difficult to pressure or persuade states to refrain from criminalising homosexuality and embrace meaningful reform. The stance adopted by the Vatican statement fails to take into proper account the fast-moving changes in the expression of international human rights law in this subject. The hopes for progress in the Church seem to be ashes in our mouths.’

In the responsum published by the Holy See, the question proposed was: ‘Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?’ The response: Negative.’

IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC stated: ‘The Holy See’s statement represents an unwillingness to enshrine the dignity inherent to every human being that allows one to choose their life partner. The Church’s statement against homosexual unions will ring loud to those who wish to continue discriminating against homosexual individuals and violate their human rights under the guise of state rules. When Cardinal Parolin met with the IBA and IBAHRI he agreed to further the dialogue. I was delighted. The thought that we may be able to work towards ensuring same-sex couples enjoyed the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts loomed. Today, I hope for a return to that possibility.’

The CDF described marriage between a man and a woman as sacrosanct and therefore blessings cannot be extended to same-sex couples: ‘For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (that is, outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.’

The IBAHRI Council Resolution on sexual orientation and human rights, adopted on 27 May 2010, opposes discrimination, violence and other breaches of human rights directed against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here for information on the IBA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Law Committee. www.ibanet.org/PPID/Constituent/LGBTI_Issues/Default
  2. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.

    In the ensuing 70 years since its creation, the organisation has evolved from an association comprised exclusively of bar associations and law societies to one that incorporates individual international lawyers and entire law firms. The present membership is comprised of more than 80,000 individual international lawyers from most of the world’s leading law firms and some 190 bar associations and law societies spanning more than 170 countries.

    The IBA has considerable expertise in providing assistance to the global legal community, and through its global membership, it influences the development of international law reform and helps to shape the future of the legal profession throughout the world.

    The IBA’s administrative office is in London, United Kingdom. Regional offices are located in: São Paulo, Brazil; Seoul, South Korea; and Washington DC, United States, while the IBA’s International Criminal Court and International Criminal Law Programme (ICC & ICL) is managed from an office in The Hague, the Netherlands.

    The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.

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