Vatican City: Pope Francis has approved a new document that allows Roman Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples under certain conditions, in a historic move that marks a significant shift in the church’s stance on homosexuality. The document, issued by the Vatican’s doctrinal office on Monday, December 18, 2023, states that such blessings are a sign of God’s love and mercy for all people and that the church should not deny them to those who seek them.
However, the document also clarifies that these blessings are not equivalent to the sacrament of marriage, which the church reserves for the exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to conceiving children. The document warns that any blessings of same-sex unions should not resemble or imitate the liturgical form of the matrimonial rite and that they should not imply any approval of homosexual acts, which the church considers sinful.
The document, which was approved by Pope Francis, gives priests the discretion to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to grant blessings to same-sex couples, taking into account their pastoral situation and their sincere desire to live according to God’s will. The document also urges priests to welcome and accompany homosexual persons with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, and to avoid any discrimination or judgment.
The pope’s decision comes after he had signaled his openness to blessings for same-sex couples in October 2023, when he said that some official changes were being considered. Pope Francis has been known for his more inclusive and merciful approach to LGBTQ issues since his election in 2013, when he famously said, “Who am I to judge?” He has also appointed several bishops and cardinals who share his vision of a more welcoming church.
The pope’s decision, however, has also provoked criticism and opposition from some conservative sectors of the church, who see it as a betrayal of the church’s traditional teaching and a threat to the sanctity of marriage. Five retired cardinals had written to the pope in July 2023, asking him to clarify his position on several doctrinal questions, including the blessing of same-sex unions. The pope had responded to them in a letter, defending his decision as an expression of pastoral prudence and charity, but the cardinals were not satisfied and made their letter public on October 2, 2023.
The document issued by the Vatican on Monday is expected to spark further debate and controversy within the 1.35 billion-member church, as well as reactions from other Christian denominations and religious groups. The document also raises questions about how it will be implemented in different regions and cultures, where the legal and social status of same-sex unions varies widely. The document acknowledges that the issue is complex and sensitive and that it requires further reflection and dialogue.