Former Methodist minister, partner receive same-sex blessing from Chicago parish in video

5 mins read
This is an undated screenshot of the altar at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Chicago. A Chicago priest in liturgical garb performed a blessing of a same-sex couple at the church, which was video-recorded and described on Instagram as "a blessing of our marriage." (OSV News screenshot/Instagram)

(OSV News) — A former Methodist minister has sought a blessing on her same-sex union from a priest at a parish within the Archdiocese of Chicago, months after the Vatican issued a document on the possibility of giving spontaneous, non-liturgical pastoral blessings to couples in irregular situations.

“Myah always wanted to get married at the chapel of her Alma mater, so I surprised her with a blessing of our marriage!” wrote Kelli Knight, who posted a brief video and photographs of the blessing April 22 on her Instagram account, citygrrl76.

Video of same-sex union blessing

The video pictured Knight, who spent 14 years as pastor of several Chicago-area United Methodist congregations, with a woman addressed in the clip as Myah and Vincentian Father Joseph S. Williams, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Chicago.

The parish, administered by the Vincentian Congregation of the Mission-Western Province and adjacent to DePaul University, was established by the Vincentians in 1898 and serves the university community.

In a May 1 phone call with OSV News, Father Williams confirmed that he is the priest in the video, and that the blessing — which he said he administered by appointment at the request of Knight a month prior — took place at St. Vincent de Paul.

OSV News has sent a link to the video to the Archdiocese of Chicago for comment, along with a message to Knight via her Instagram account, and is awaiting a reply to both inquiries.

Elements of the ceremony

In the video, Knight is dressed in an off-the-shoulder, champagne-colored sequined gown, while Myah is dressed in a black suit with a matching fedora and a white tie, with both women wearing floral wrist corsages. The clip looked to be filmed using a cellphone on a tripod set before the altar, with the camera facing the empty church. Father Williams, dressed in a white alb and an ivory stole, helps the pair to adjust their position in the camera frame before beginning the blessing.

As the two women face each other holding hands, Father Williams says, “This is going to be very short, very brief,” and then reads from a printed text — which he told OSV News he had written himself — in a liturgical binder typically used at Mass for announcements.

Blessing details

The format of the blessing approximates a renewal of wedding vows, with Father Williams addressing the women by their names, asking, “Do you freely recommit yourselves to love each other as holy spouses and to live in peace and harmony together forever?”

“We do, I do,” they each reply.

Father Williams then continues, “Loving God, increase and consecrate the love which Kelli and Myah have for one another.”

Although no ring exchange is depicted in the segment, the priest says, “The rings they have exchanged are the sign of their fidelity and commitment. May they continue to prosper in your grace and blessing. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”

He concludes the blessing by making the sign of the cross over the two women, who cross themselves, and saying, “May God’s blessing be yours, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Request for evaluation

OSV News has forwarded a link to the video, along with a request for evaluation, to Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which in December 2023 released the formal declaration “Fiducia Supplicans” (“Supplicating Trust”), subtitled “On the pastoral meaning of blessings.”

In his introductory note to the document, Cardinal Fernández said his office had, over the past few years, repeatedly received questions about priestly blessings for same-sex or other unmarried couples in irregular situations. He wrote that the need for a fuller explanation of blessings became apparent after Pope Francis responded to the “dubia,” or questions, posed by several cardinals in a letter released in early October.

USCCB statement: Affirmation of Church teaching and distinction of blessing types

Following the declaration’s release, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a Dec. 18, 2023, statement through its spokesperson, Chieko Noguchi, noting “the declaration affirms” that “the Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed.”

The document “articulated a distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings, and pastoral blessings, which may be given to persons who desire God’s loving grace in their lives,” said the statement.

At the same time, the USCCB statement said, the text makes “an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.”

Fiducia Supplicans” stresses that “one should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples in an irregular situation.”

In addition, the text specifies that such blessings, “precisely to avoid any form of confusion or scandal … should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”

Father Williams explains blessing ceremony

Father Williams told OSV News that he specifically vested for the blessing, saying, “If people (are) concerned about it, they can ask me and I can talk to them. … It’s how I do it. When I go to somebody’s house to bless their house … I wear an alb and stole. … That’s just what I do as a priest. That’s part of my garment.”

He also said that he had read “Fiducia Supplicans,” and that it was his “understanding of the text … that the Holy Father said that same-sex couples can be blessed as long as it does not reflect a marriage situation … as long as it’s clear that it’s not a marriage.”

“The text, as most Vatican documents do, goes on and on and on about a lot of things that are often not understandable, but that specific piece is what I understand,” said Father Williams.

When Knight first requested the blessing, he said he told her, “Please understand that this is not in any way a marriage, a wedding, anything like that. This is just simply a blessing of persons.”

Father Williams explained to OSV News that his use of the term “holy spouses” in the blessing he had written was intended to mean “couple.”

“They were a couple (and) they want to be blessed,” he said, noting “they told me they were partners” and that “they wore commitment rings” that he blessed “as a sign of their commitment.”

Assessment of the video

John Grabowski, professor of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America, told OSV News that the blessing mirrored “a quasi wedding ceremony done publicly in a church by a vested priest.”

After viewing the video, Grabowski said that while “it’s hard to get the full picture from a series of pictures on social media … this does not look like it fits with ‘Fiducia Supplicans‘” and “seems to flatly contradict both the letter and the spirit of the DDF’s document.”

Father Williams said the blessing, the first such he has given, has been favorably received.

“The people around here that know about it were happy that I was willing to do this for this couple,” he said. “Again, coming from the point of view that they love each other. Love is love. And I get the church’s position on same-sex marriage, and I happen to agree with that. I do believe that that valid sacramental marriage is between a man and a woman. But I think that to be able to say to people that love each other, ‘God bless you, and do the best you can’ — that’s how I come at this.”

Gina Christian

Gina Christian is a National Reporter for OSV News.