On Monday, Pope Francis formally authorized Roman Catholic priests to offer blessings to same-sex couples, signaling a significant change in the church’s stance towards the LGBTQ+ community.
The Vatican’s doctrine office has provided further details in a document that expands on a letter Pope Francis sent to two conservative cardinals, which was made public in October. In his initial response, Pope Francis hinted that such blessings might be permissible in certain contexts, as long as they didn’t resemble the sacrament of marriage.
The updated document reiterates this stance, emphasizing that marriage is viewed as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman. It underscores that the blessings in question should not be associated with any specific Catholic ceremony or religious service. Additionally, these blessings must not coincide with a civil union ceremony and should avoid employing established wedding rituals, including specific attire and gestures.
This recent represents a departure from the Vatican’s 2021 directive, which prohibited such blessings, asserting that God “cannot bless sin.”
Since July 2023, the doctrine office has been under the leadership of Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, an Argentinian bishop and a close associate of Pope Francis. Fernandez’s tenure has introduced a more progressive approach compared to his predecessors.
The declaration, penned by Cardinal Fernandez and another official, emphasizes that an extensive moral evaluation should not serve as a prerequisite for granting a blessing. “When people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it,” the declaration states. “The grace of God works in the lives of those who do not claim to be righteous but who acknowledge themselves humbly as sinners, like everyone else.”
The updated directive introduces “the possibility of blessings for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex” entrusting the final decisions to the “wise and compassionate judgment of ordained ministers.”
James Martin, a Jesuit priest known for his work with gay Catholics and backed by Pope Francis, characterized this decision as a “huge step forward in the church’s ministry to same-sex couples.” He noted that it marks a notable departure from the Vatican’s position in 2021.
“The new declaration opens the door to non-liturgical blessings for same-sex couples, something that had been previously off limits for all bishops, priests and deacons,” he told CNN in a statement. “Along with many Catholic priests, I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex marriages.”
Pope Francis initiated efforts to reshape the church’s approach to LGBTQ Catholics way back in 2013. It can be remembered that he said, “Who am I to judge?” as a response to a question about gay clergy.
Pope Francis has voiced support for the civil acknowledgment of same-sex couples in the past and has aimed to steer the Vatican away from some of its previously stringent language concerning the LGBTQ community. His endorsement of legal acknowledgment for gay couples, albeit different from marriage, diverged from a 2003 Vatican directive that advocated against recognizing homosexual unions legally.
In addition, the pope has also expressed his support with Jeanine Gramick, a U.S. nun who has dedicated years to ministering to gay Catholics. Although previously rebuked by the Vatican, Gramick recently had a meeting with Pope Francis, who commended her as a “valiant woman.”
The Vatican’s updated directive stipulates that offering blessings to same-sex and unmarried couples can occur “without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.” Upholding the Catholic Church’s doctrine that sexual relations are reserved for marriage, the ruling emphasizes that the church cannot bestow a “liturgical blessing” upon same-sex or unmarried couples, as it might “offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice.”
However, the directive underscores that the essence of a blessing should not be confined “to this point of view alone,” cautioning against imposing excessive moral conditions that might obscure the boundless nature of God’s love through pastoral gestures.
The ruling highlighted that Pope Francis believes the church should not merely act as “judges who only deny, reject, and exclude,” emphasizing the importance of a more inclusive perspective on blessings.
Pope Francis’ inclusive stance towards LGBTQ+ Catholics has garnered opposition from a small but outspoken faction within the church. His recent decision regarding blessings is anticipated to encounter resistance from this particular group.