VATICAN CITY (RNS) — The Vatican said on Monday LGBTQ couples cannot receive a blessing by a priest. Pope Francis approved the decision despite his past openings toward same-sex couples.
“Since blessings on persons are in relationship with the sacraments, the blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit,” said the note, signed by Cardinal Louis Ladaria, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF.
Blessing same-sex couples “would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing,” which instead is exclusive to a marriage between a man and a woman, the document said. Couples who are divorced, remarried or sexually active outside of marriage also cannot be blessed.
The document is a response to a dubium, or question, presented by pastors or faithful on some important or controversial topic. “In some ecclesial contexts, plans and proposals for blessings of unions of persons of the same sex are being advanced,” the response read.
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Across the Alps, German bishops have resumed virtual meetings for the Synodal Path, a summit of local bishops to address the main challenges facing the Catholic Church. Included in the conversations taking place among German clergy and laity is the possibility of priests imparting a blessing for same-sex couples.
The document issued by the CDF responds to the proponents of this option with a resounding “no.” Proponents believe blessing same-sex marriages to be a practical way to pastor LGBTQ individuals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and Pope Francis’ document on married life and the family, Amoris Laetitia, also call for “respect, compassion and sensitivity” toward LGBTQ people and advise that “unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
The CDF explained that the response does not constitute a discrimination but stems from the Catholic Church’s understanding of sacraments, its distinction between blessing individuals or couples and the concern that such blessings might be interpreted as a substitute for marriage.
“The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not therefore, and is not intended to be, a form of unjust discrimination,” the document said.
Blessings, the CDF said, are under the category of sacramentals, meaning that, while they are not sacraments, their function is to “prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.” For this reason, only relationships that are “in themselves ordered” can receive a blessing by the Catholic Church.
Homosexuality is considered “intrinsically disordered” by the Catholic Church, and same-sex marriage is invalid since it is not “open in itself to the transmission of life.” While individuals in a same-sex relationship “are in themselves to be valued and appreciated,” the relationship is “not ordered to the Creator’s plan,” the note said.
The CDF allowed this “does not preclude the blessings given to individual persons with homosexual inclinations,” if that individual is willing to abstain from sex.
“God cannot bless sin,” the document continued, but said God can bless a sinful man, “so that he may recognize that he is part of (God’s) plan of love and allow himself to be changed by (God).”
The note and the commentary attached specify that Pope Francis “was informed and gave his assent” to the publication of the note.
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Pope Francis made headlines in 2013 when, asked by journalists about a gay priest, he answered: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” At the time, this statement was hailed as a breath of fresh air in an institution that had historically pegged LGBTQ people as being outside of God’s plan for humanity.
Since then Francis has offered financial help and support to transexual communities in Rome and abroad, embraced gay people warmly and called for Catholics to pray for LGBTQ people and to “show goodwill, show them the way, and accompany them along it.”
This newest document, beyond being a slap on the wrist to the bishops in Germany, also underlined Pope Francis’ unwillingness to cater to one side on this issue, opening internal debates while angering both liberal and conservative Catholics.