Pope Francis Approves Blessings for Same-Sex Couples but Stops Short of Lifting Ban on Gay Marriage

In a recent Vatican statement, Pope Francis approved allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples in his latest gesture of outreach to the LGBTQ+ community. Many Catholic groups praised the decision as a step in the right direction, but it drew criticism from traditionalists.

Catholic gay marriage ban intact

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Pope Francis has formally approved allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples; the Vatican recently announced a radical policy shift that aimed to make the church more inclusive while keeping its strict ban on gay marriage.

Advocacy groups concerned move emphasizes division

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Some praised the Vatican’s statement as a step in the right direction toward reducing discrimination in the Catholic Church. However, some LGBTQ+ advocates warned it emphasized the church’s belief that gay couples are inferior to heterosexual partnerships.

Pope clarifies his stance

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The latest document from the Vatican’s doctrine office expands on a letter Pope Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published last October. In that initial response, the Pope suggested that such blessings could be given under circumstances that prevented their confusion with the ritual of marriage.

Marriage is between men and women

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The new document reiterates that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman. It also stresses that the blessings in question cannot be tied to any specific Catholic celebration or religious service and should be given during a civil union ceremony. The blessings cannot use rituals or clothing and gestures that belong in a wedding.

Blessings, not marriage

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“It will be possible to bless same-sex couples but without any type of ritualization or offering the impression of a marriage,” the report said. “The doctrine regarding marriage does not change, and the blessing does not signify approval of the union.”

Ask, and you shall receive

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But the report says requests for blessings from same-sex couples should not be denied. It offers a wide-ranging definition of the term “blessing” found in Scripture to insist those seeking love and mercy from God should not be held to impossible moral standards to receive it.

Moral perfection isn’t required

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“For those seeking a blessing should not be required to have prior moral perfection,” it said. “There is no intention to legitimize anything, but rather to open one’s life to God, to ask for His help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness,” the report added.

Progressive Pope

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The document marks a significant gesture of outreach from the Vatican, which stated in 2021 that the Catholic Church would not bless same-sex couples because God “does not bless sin.” Pope Francis has, however, made welcoming LGBTQ+ Catholics a consistent feature of his papacy.

Conservative outrage

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Since his March 2013 election to the papacy, the Pope’s inclusive statements about the LGBTQ+ community have drawn ire from conservative cardinals. From his 2013 comment, “Who am I to judge?” to his 2023 comment, “Being homosexual is not a crime,” he has distinguished himself from his predecessors.

Historic shift

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Vatican observers have noted the move’s significance, with one describing it as “likely the most concrete pastoral shift on the church’s stance toward gay couples in the church’s 2,000-year history.”

Support groups welcome the news

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Groups that support LGBTQ+ Catholics gave their reactions to the news. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry said: “The significance of this news cannot be overstated. It is one thing to formally approve same-gender blessings, which he had already pastorally permitted, but to say that people should not be subjected to ‘an exhaustive moral analysis’ to receive God’s love and mercy is an even more significant step.”

American priest approves

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Father James Martin, an American Jesuit priest who advocates for LGBTQ+ Catholics, praised the new document, saying it “recognizes the deep desire in many Catholic same-sex couples for God’s presence in their loving relationships.” “Along with many priests, I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex unions,” he said.

Downfall of the church

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Traditionalists were outraged by the document. Traditionalist blogger Luigi Casalini of Messa in Latino blog wrote that the document was heresy. “The church is crumbling,” he wrote.

Theologian concerns

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Ulrich Lehner, a University of Notre Dame theologian, was also concerned, arguing that it would lead to confusion and further division in the church.

An invitation to schism

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“The Vatican’s statement is, in my view, the most unfortunate public announcement in decades,” he stated. “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.”

It’s not just the Catholic Church

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The Church of England recently announced a similar plan to allow clergy to bless the unions of same-sex couples who are married or in a civil partnership, but it still bans same-sex couples from having church weddings.

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