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Same-sex couples can be blessed, says Vatican. But don’t dress up, it warns

19 December 2023

Jim McIntosh/Creative Commons

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican

ROMAN Catholic priests may bless same-sex couples — provided they do so only outside any kind of rite resembling marriage, the Vatican announced on Monday.

The announcement elaborates on a letter issued by Pope Francis in October (News, 3 October) in which he hinted that blessings might be offered “under some circumstances”. He was responding to dubia (doubts) sent to him by five cardinals in July.

The new policy is set out in an eight-page doctrinal declaration, Fiducia supplicans, issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), which states that people seeking God’s love and mercy should not be subject to “an exhaustive moral analysis” to receive it. People in “irregular” unions — gay or straight — are in a state of sin, the declaration states, but this should not deprive them of God’s love or mercy.

In the introduction to the declaration, the Prefect of the DDF, Cardinal Victor Fernández, explains that the declaration allows “a broadening and enrichment of the classical understanding” of blessings, through a theological reflection “based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis”.

The document explores the pastoral meaning of blessings. It distinguishes between ritual and liturgical blessings, and spontaneous ones, which it likens to signs of popular devotion. It declares that a request for a blessing by those “who do not live according to the norms of Christian moral doctrine” falls into the second category.

The document reiterates what it calls the “perennial Catholic doctrine”: only sexual relations between a man and a woman in the context of marriage are considered lawful.

But, under the new declaration, it is now possible to bless couples in irregular situations, such as same-sex couples, “without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage”. A blessing within the sacrament of marriage is something different — and blessings of same-sex couples must avoid any implication that “something that is not marriage is being recognized as marriage”, the document says.

“When a blessing is invoked on certain human relationships” through liturgical rite, the declaration notes, “it is necessary that what is blessed corresponds with God’s designs written in creation.” The implication is that the Church does not have the power to impart a liturgical blessing on couples living in “irregular” partnerships.

To avoid “any form of confusion or scandal”, such a blessing “should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding,” the declaration says.

Yet people who ask for a blessing show themselves “to be in need of God’s saving presence” in their lives by expressing “a petition for God’s assistance, a plea to live better”, it continues. Such a request should be received and valued “outside of a liturgical framework”, and blessings in these circumstances “should be evaluated as acts of devotion”. Such a blessing “is offered to all without requiring anything”.

The declaration refers to the occasions “when people spontaneously ask for a blessing, whether on pilgrimages, at shrines, or even on the street when they meet a priest”. These blessings “are meant for everyone”, it says.

It suggests that these blessings might represent a sign for those who, “recognising themselves to be destitute and in need of his help 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”.

Same-sex blessings should not become the norm, the declaration states. Requests should be approached, case by case, as “a practical discernment in particular circumstances”.

The declaration makes it clear that it is not the union that is blessed, but the couple. It suggests that the priest giving the blessing could ask that the individuals have “peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance”, but also “God’s light and strength to be able to fulfil his will completely”.

The declaration concludes that “even when a person’s relationship with God is clouded by sin, he can always ask for a blessing, stretching out his hand to God”; and that desiring a blessing “can be the possible good in some situations”.

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