The Vatican issued a detailed 5-page explanation this week defending its recent declaration that Catholic clergy cannot bless same-sex unions, while also stating that individual blessings for same-sex couples are allowed. The latest guidance aims to clarify what the Vatican calls “confusion” among clergy and faithful regarding its previous declaration last March that blessings for same-sex unions are “not licit”.
In March 2023, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a responsum titled Fiducia Supplicans prohibiting blessings for same-sex unions. This prompted outrage among liberal factions in the Church as well as LGBTQ Catholics globally. Several bishops conferences and high-ranking clergy openly challenged the ban, saying they would continue allowing such blessings in their dioceses.
This week’s updated CDF guidelines aim to give concrete examples where general blessings can still be given to same-sex couples, while continuing to prohibit official liturgical blessing ceremonies.
Key Points from CDF Clarification
The CDF outlines several key points in its latest document:
Blessings for same-sex couples are “illicit” but “not in themselves sacrilegious or blasphemous.” This affirms that such blessings, while prohibited, do not constitute grave sin.
Priests may impart generic individual blessings that manifest “the Church’s benevolent pastoral care” towards persons with same-sex attraction. But blessings conveying approval of same-sex unions remain forbidden.
The clarification aims to affirm Church teaching while avoiding “unjust discrimination” against persons with homosexual orientation. It calls for “respect, compassion and sensitivity” from clergy and laity towards such persons.
Reaction from Supporters and Critics
Several prominent clergy and Catholic groups welcomed the clarification document. Buenos Aires Archbishop Victor Fernández, a close advisor to Pope Francis, said it gives a “clear orientation” regarding Church teaching and pastoral care on this issue. It provides concrete examples of permissible blessings while upholding the prohibition of liturgical same-sex blessings.
Others see it as an unsatisfactory compromise. Bishop Marian Eleganti of Switzerland said it “contradicts the Church’s teaching” and will “deepen the existing confusion”. Conservative Catholic media like Crisis Magazine called it a “pathetic document” that protests too much, trying unsuccessfully to reconcile contradictions in the Church’s position.
Liberal groups expressed disappointment that the essential prohibition remains unchanged. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry said “for LGBTQ people, their families… this newest document changes nothing in their exclusion from full participation in the life of the church.”
Differing Diocesan Policies
Individual bishops hold significant autonomy over pastoral policies in their own dioceses. Some made quick moves this week to implement the CDF’s updated guidance:
San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone issued strict guidelines prohibiting blessings or prayer services for same-sex couples, while allowing priests to impart individual blessings privately per CDF instructions.
In contrast, Washington DC Archbishop Wilton Gregory said his policy to allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples on a case-by-case basis remains unchanged.
These examples demonstrate leeway for local bishops to interpret the Vatican guidance according to their own pastoral priorities.
|Policy on Same-Sex Blessings
|Strict ban per CDF rules
|Allowed on case-by-case basis
What Comes Next
Further dispute and debate regarding blessing same-sex unions now appears inevitable. Individual bishops dissatisfied with this week’s clarification may become even more outspoken in challenging the Vatican prohibition.
Pope Francis could intervene with a new encyclical or other teaching document aiming to resolve the tensions. But for now he appears inclined to let the debate play out rather than impose a definitive ruling.
Grassroots organizations like New Ways Ministry vow to continue advocating for full LGBTQ inclusion in Catholic sacramental life. They hope that growing social acceptance of same-sex unions will eventually sway Church teaching on this issue.
For LGBTQ Catholics worldwide, personal anguish over their contested status in the Church seems unlikely to abate anytime soon. But Pope Francis’ well-known emphasis on mercy over judgment offers a glimmer of hope that formal doctrinal prohibitions may one day give way to greater acceptance in practice.
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