Pope Francis has formally approved allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples as long as the union doesn’t resemble same-sex marriage. It’s a baby step shift in policy aimed at making the church appear more inclusive while legitimizing the inferiority chasm between heterosexual unions and same-sex marriages.
This marriage adjacent concept allows Roman Catholic priests to begin administering blessings to same-sex couples as long as they are not part of regular Church rituals or liturgies.
The ruling was signed by Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, the head of the head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Francis in a private audience with Fernandez and another doctrinal office official on Monday.
The communication iterated that priests should decide action 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”.
Fernández acknowledged that broadening the scope of who could receive blessings amounted to “a real development” and an “innovative contribution to the pastoral meaning of blessings.” He said the decision was “based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis.”
Francis’ announcement heralded polarizing responses from LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and their counterparts.
“The allowance for pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement Monday.
“Those recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would want, are an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality,” DeBernardo added.
Rev. James Martin, an advocate for a greater welcome for LGBTQ+ Catholics, praised the new document as a “huge step forward” and a “dramatic shift” from the Vatican’s 2021 policy.
“Along with many Catholic priests, I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex marriages,” he said in an email.
“The church is crumbling,” traditionalist blogger Luigi Casalini of Messa in Latino wrote in response to Monday’s announcement.
“The Vatican’s statement is, in my view, the most unfortunate public announcement in decades,” University of Notre Dame theologian Ulrich Lehner said in a statement. “Moreover, some bishops will use it as a pretext to do what the document explicitly forbids, especially since the Vatican has not stopped them before. It is — and I hate to say it — an invitation to schism.”
The head of the German Bishops Conference welcomed the document.
“This means that a blessing can be given to couples who do not have the opportunity to marry in church, for example due to divorce, and to same-sex couples,” Bishop Georg Baetzing said in a statement. “The practice of the church knows a variety of forms of blessing. It is good that this treasure for the diversity of lifestyles is now being raised.”
In 2021, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the church couldn’t bless the union of two men or two women because “God cannot bless sin.” Earlier this year, Francis told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that “being homosexual isn’t a crime.”
Rev. John Oesterle, a Catholic priest and hospital chaplain in Pittsburgh, said many priests would probably not be open to offering such a blessing, but he welcomed Francis’ action.
“I think the pope has learned to accept people as God made them,” Oesterle said. “When I was growing up, the assumption was that God made everyone straight. What we have learned is that is not true.”
Oesterle added, “In accepting people as God made them, and if Jesus’ primary teaching is we should love and serve one another in the community, I think that’s what gives Pope Francis the openness to God’s presence in those relationships.”