In a move laden with caveats and provisos, but nonetheless regarded as “a real development,” according to its author, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the Vatican has issued a declaration on doctrine allowing priests to bless same-sex relationships.
It required a change to the concept of what “blessings” are—broadening the definition by untying blessings from the sacraments and liturgy of Catholicism and placing them “in a realm of greater spontaneity and freedom,” as the doctrinal statement, approved by Pope Francis, reads. “In this way, blessings become a pastoral resource to be valued rather than a risk or a problem.”
The document emphasizes that, in order to secure “the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage,” there’s no necessity for “an exhaustive moral analysis,” nor for the couple to “be required to have prior moral perfection,” nor for priests to act “like judges who only deny, reject, and exclude.”
The Vatican document stresses that a blessing is a way to allow for God’s mercy and closeness. “It is a seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered,” it read. The document added that, while the decision aims to allow faithful to be closer to God, “there is no intention to legitimize anything.”
Father James Martin called the declaration a “major step forward in the church’s ministry to L.G.B.T.Q. people and 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.”
Father Martin’s joy at the declaration is not shared by conservative cardinals who have been opposed to the blessing of same-sex couples and viewed with alarm the gradual two-year about face from the Vatican on the subject.
In 2021, a Vatican ruling categorically forbade the blessing of gay couples—the argument being that “God cannot bless sin.” But then in October, in a private response to conservative cardinals, Pope Francis opened the possibility that same-sex couples could indeed be blessed and that, although the church absolutely maintained that marriage could exist only between a man and a woman, priests should exercise “pastoral charity” when it came to the dispensation of blessings.
Then on October 31 the Pope approved another document by Cardinal Fernández’s department, opening the door for transgender people to be baptized, serve as godparents and be witnesses at church weddings.
In furthering a more inclusive vision for the Catholic Church, this latest document, approving the blessing of same-sex couples urges, “God never turns away anyone who approaches him!”