In a historic move, Pope Francis has formally approved blessings for same-sex couples. The Vatican released a document on Monday outlining guidance that allows Catholic priests to bestow blessings on gay and lesbian couples in “certain cases.”
Background Leading Up to the Decision
The Vatican’s decision follows more than a decade of debate within the Catholic Church on how to minister to gay and lesbian Catholics. While Catholic teaching holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” Pope Francis has taken a more welcoming tone toward LGBTQ people.
Early in his papacy, Francis made his now-famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay priests. He has welcomed LGBTQ people to the Vatican and has spoken out against the criminalization of homosexuality.
However, formal policy had not changed prior to Monday’s announcement. Catholic teaching has long held that marriage can only be between a man and woman.
The Pope’s move is seen as an effort to make gay and lesbian couples feel more welcome in a church that considers homosexual activity to be sinful. It also reflects Francis’ emphasis on being a more inclusive, merciful church.
Details of the New Guidance
The Vatican document, titled “Fiducia Supplicans,” does not create a sacramental same-sex union equal to marriage. But it does allow blessings of same-sex couples in limited circumstances, as long as the couple shows some sign of Christian faith and commitment.
The document states: “The church recalls that God Himself never ceases to bless each of His children as they walk through life, no matter what their situation may be.”
It goes on to say that such blessings are permissible only if the couple requests them for “legitimate reasons” and shows an intention to be faithful, Christian partners.
The guidance makes clear that any such blessing ceremony cannot resemble a marriage liturgy in any way. It must be “simple, impermanent, succinct.”
Reaction from LGBTQ Catholics and Advocates
LGBTQ Catholics and their advocates greeted the Vatican announcement with joy and a sense of validation after years of advocacy seeking greater welcome for gays and lesbians in the church.
New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBTQ advocacy group, called the decision an “early Christmas gift to LGBTQ Catholics who have patiently waited for an affirmative sign from their church.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, the group’s executive director, said she welcomed the move even though “it does not cross all the boundaries we would like.”
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s executive director, said the allowance for same-sex blessings was a “major step forward for LGBTQ equality.”
Responses from U.S. Bishops
However, more conservative Catholic leaders warned that the blessing guidance did not alter church doctrine opposing same-sex marriage.
The chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine emphasized that the Vatican was not approving a sacramental union equivalent to marriage between a man and woman.
“The Vatican Dicastery explains that the Church cannot bless same-sex unions without thereby approving such unions,” the bishops stated. “The Church teaches, through its pastoral guidance, the truth of God’s plan for human sexuality, marriage, and the family.”
Other U.S. bishops, such as Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, worried the blessing approval could cause “confusion.”
What Comes Next?
It remains to be seen to what extent Catholic priests around the world embrace the Vatican’s allowance for same-sex blessings. More progressive parishes, especially in Western countries, may be eager to implement such ceremonies.
But many bishops, especially in Africa and Asia, may discourage or prohibit such blessings in their dioceses due to more conservative cultural views on homosexuality in those regions.
Pope Francis likely hopes that the new guidance will help make gay and lesbian Catholics feel more included in their local churches. However, sweeping changes to Catholic doctrine on sexuality and marriage do not appear to be on the horizon.
This limited acceptance of same-sex couples likely indicates the beginning of a long, gradual process of the Catholic Church moving toward greater welcome for LGBTQ members, rather than an immediate revolution.
|Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio elected Pope Francis
|Pope says Christians should apologize to gays
|Pope endorses civil unions for same-sex couples
|Formal approval of blessings for same-sex couples
The table above shows the timeline of Pope Francis’ major moves regarding the Catholic Church’s outreach to the LGBTQ community since his election as pope 10 years ago. While Catholic teaching opposing homosexual activity remains unchanged, Francis has taken small but significant steps to soften the church’s tone toward gays and lesbians. Monday’s blessing approval represents the latest milestone in that gradual process.
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