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Pope Francis approves Catholic blessings for same-sex couples, but not for marriage

Pope Francis has approved some Catholic blessings for same-sex couples, so long as priests avoid confusion with marriage blessings.
Tiziana Fabi
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AFP via Getty Images
Pope Francis has approved some Catholic blessings for same-sex couples, so long as priests avoid confusion with marriage blessings.

Pope Francis has granted his formal approval allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples so long as they do not appear to endorse their marriage, marking the church's most permissive decree yet on the issue of same-sex couples.

The declaration, published Monday in a new document titled "Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings," marks a major departure for the Vatican, which only two years ago had said God "cannot bless sin" in a controversial 2021 decision about same-sex couples. Monday's document was approved by Pope Francis.

Still, the Vatican stressed that marriage remains exclusively between a man and a woman, and any priests granting a blessing to a same-sex couple must "avoid any form of confusion or scandal" that could suggest otherwise.

Francis, 87, has made liberalization toward LGBTQ Catholics a hallmark of his papacy. Since he became pope in 2013, he has urged the decriminalization of homosexuality. When asked in 2013 about gay priests, he famously replied: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"

Monday's declaration is a "major step forward" for the church in regards to LGBTQ people, said the Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit priest who has advocated for the LGBTQ Catholic community.

The declaration "recognizes the deep desire in many Catholic same-sex couples for God's presence in their loving relationships," Martin wrote on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter. "In short, yesterday, as a priest, I was forbidden to bless same-sex couples at all. Today, with some limitations, I can."

What the declaration says about blessings for same-sex couples

In the document, the Vatican draws a distinction between what it described as "ritual and liturgical" blessings and those that are more informal and spontaneous.

"This Declaration remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage, not allowing any type of liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion," wrote prefect Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández in an introduction to the document.

"It is precisely in this context that one can understand 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," Fernández wrote.

The Vatican instructs priests to refuse the blessing in connection with a ceremony of a civil union, or with any "clothing, gestures or words" that are associated with weddings.

Instead, the proper settings for such a blessing could be in a meeting with a priest or a visit to a shrine, the Vatican suggests.

Blessings may be granted to same-sex couples and other couples "in irregular situations" (such as divorced and remarried couples who were not granted annulments for their previous marriages) who "do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit," the document states.

"God never turns away anyone who approaches him! Ultimately, a blessing offers people a means to increase their trust in God," it continues.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.