Archbishop John C. Wester declined to back a Vatican letter calling same-sex marriage sinful but also stopped short Wednesday of endorsing same-sex marriage.
Wester, who oversees the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, spoke in response to a letter issued Monday from the Vatican that states that same-sex unions, or marriages, are not permissible in the Catholic Church.
Wester said in an interview that Catholicism accepts and honors gay people. The church values members of the LGBTQ community as people with dignity, he said.
The church teaches that same-sex activity is wrong, but that should not suggest that the individuals are bad, he said.
“Human sexuality is a gift from God, and it’s also something that’s very complex and mysterious,” Wester said. Morality is subjective, he said, and only God and the individual involved really know if an act is a sin.
Asked if he agreed with the letter, Wester said: “It’s too complicated a point to respond to that, I’m afraid. The letter is multifaceted.”
The letter said same-sex unions don’t conform “to the Creator’s plan” and that God “does not and cannot bless sin.” Some observers saw the letter as closing the door on a subject they hoped Pope Francis would shed new light upon.
The Rev. Vincent Paul Chávez of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus in Albuquerque, said he was “very discouraged” by it. It was written by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which said the missive received Pope Francis’ approval.
Many people hoped the pope’s blessing of same-sex unions might be imminent, Chávez said. In Francesco, a feature-length documentary that was released last year, the pope said that “homosexual people have the right to be in a family.”
Chávez said he personally favors such unions but would preside over one only if the Catholic Church approved. A religion can grow and mature, he said, noting that the Catholic Church “had no problem with slavery” until about 200 years ago.
“So sometimes the church comes close to figuring out God’s opinion on something,” he said. “And sometimes the Catholic Church falls short.”
The letter is about two pages long and doesn’t summarize what the pope thinks on the topic, Wester said. The letter wasn’t meant to settle anything and doesn’t change anything in Catholic teaching, he said. The letter itself says God and the church love every person and reject discrimination.
The church is “a living organism,” Wester said. “To be a teaching church, we also have to be a listening church.”
But he said there is a difference between blessing a union and blessing a person.
Kevin A. Bowen, president of the Human Rights Alliance of Santa Fe, called the letter disappointing and unfortunate. “But it’s totally to be expected,” Bowen said. “There’s too many conservatives in the church that would not agree” to bless gay unions.
Bowen’s organization oversees the Santa Fe Pride Festival in June. The event celebrates the LGBTQ community. He said for a while it appeared Pope Francis leaned toward acceptance of gay marriage but then backed off. The pope was quoted as saying eight years ago, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with goodwill, who am I to judge?”
Many people were excited by such comments, said Bowen, who attended a Jesuit high school in Florida but no longer practices Catholicism.
Wester recently signed a letter promoted by the Tyler Clementi Foundation that expressed support for the LGBTQ community and condemned bullying. Clementi was a gay college student in New Jersey who committed suicide in 2010 after being intensely harassed.
Wester said it’s important that the church stays in touch with people and values the LBGTQ community. He said: “The church blesses people and supports them and affirms them.”
The Archdiocese of Santa Fe covers a large chunk of New Mexico, including Albuquerque, Raton, Clovis and Santa Rosa. To his knowledge, Wester said, no priest in the archdiocese has presided over a same-sex union.