Nairobi Archbishop Philip Anyolo defies Pope, bans blessing of same-sex couples

Bishop Philip Anyolo

Archbishop Philip Anyolo. He has said that blessing gay unions would go against the word of God.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Archbishop Philip Anyolo of the Archdiocese of Nairobi has defied Pope Francis by warning clergy in his jurisdiction not to bless same-sex couples and those in irregular unions, in defiance of the Vatican's recent statement that has sparked controversy around the world.

In a letter to parishioners and clergy dated December 23, Archbishop Anyolo said any move to bless such unions would be "contrary to the Word of God, the teaching of the Church, African cultural traditions, the laws of our nations, and would be scandalous to the faithful".

"To make sure the fundamental doctrinal positions affirmed in the Declaration, and the perennial teachings of the Church on marriage, is upheld, all Clergy residing and ministering in the Archdiocese of Nairobi are prohibited from blessing irregular relationships, unions, or same-sex couples,” Anyolo said in the letter.

In a landmark ruling approved by Pope Francis, the Vatican said on December 18 that Roman Catholic priests can bless same-sex couples as long as it is not part of regular church rituals or liturgies.

It said priests should decide on a case-by-case basis and "should not prevent or prohibit the Church's closeness to people in any situation in which they might seek God's help through a simple blessing".

In the document, however, the Pope insisted that the Church "has no power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice".

“This declaration (by Pope Francis) does not in any way approve of same-sex marriages, nor try to give a back door for the recognition of such a union. It does not seek an alternative union blessing to substitute a sacramental marriage,” Archbishop Kivuva said.

In the statement, Archbishop Kivuva said that the understanding within the Catholic Church is that marriage is considered a sacrament and is specifically defined as "an indissoluble union between a man and a woman for life".

In his December 23 letter, Anyolo suggested that blessing same-sex couples or irregular unions would mean “approval, permission, or even commission of a certain type of action and mission”, which he said was the full meaning of any such blessing by the Church.

“Just as from a liturgical point of view, a blessing requires that what is blessed be conformed to God’s will, so too, even blessing outside of liturgical rite requires whatever is blessed conforms to God’s will. This is because the concept of ‘blessing’ is perceived by many as ‘permission’, especially as ‘permission to sin’ and also as ‘normalising’ this form of lifestyle,” Anyolo said.

As an alternative to this, Anyolo said: “The Gospel of Christ continues to call everyone to the conversion of heart and belief in Christ our Lord and God. In light of God’s mercy, the Church imparts her blessing to individual persons struggling with sin and striving to do God’s will, determined to conform their lives to the Church’s teachings. Such blessings are not only allowed but are strongly encouraged.”

The head of the Nairobi Archdiocese said the Catholic doctrine of marriage and family “disproves homosexual unions.”

“The teaching of the Church in this matter is not only rooted in scripture and tradition but also on the natural law written into the heart of every human being,” Anyolo said.

The December 18 Vatican statement on the blessing of same-sex couples has sparked debate and created a rift in opinion between the Vatican and some dioceses.

But a document from the Vatican's doctrinal office, which effectively reversed a declaration the same body had issued in 2021, said such blessings would not legitimise irregular situations but would be a sign that God welcomes all.

“It should in no way be confused with the sacrament of heterosexual marriage,” the eight-page document reads in part.

“Priests should decide on a case-by-case basis and should not prevent or prohibit the Church's closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God's help through a simple blessing’.”

The Church teaches that same-sex attraction is not sinful, but that homosexual acts are.

Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has sought to make the Church, which has more than 1.35 billion members, more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people without changing its moral doctrine.