Pope Francis opens possibility for blessing same-sex unions

Blessing same-sex unions within the Catholic Church may be a possibility, says Pope Francis. In yet another missive addressing LGBTQ+ inclusion, Pope Francis told cardinals who have questioned the pope’s affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community in the Catholic Church that he thinks this can happen. Pope Francis has made reaching out to LGBTQ+ people a hallmark of his papacy.

In a document released on Oct. 2 by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope’s latest decision allows for pastoral ministers to administer such blessings on a case-by-case basis, advising that “pastoral prudence” and “pastoral charity” should guide any response to couples who request a blessing.

“The life of the church,” the Pope writes, “runs through many channels in addition to the standard ones,” indicating that respecting diverse and particular situations must take precedence over Church law.

Pope Francis said this in a July letter just made public in advance of a Synod to be held starting Oct. 4 at the Vatican. The letter, written in Pope Francis’s native Spanish, reaffirmed that “the Church has a very clear understanding of marriage: an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation,” according to the Vatican News. But Francis also added that there should be “pastoral charity.”

Pope Francis said, “The defense of objective truth is not the only expression of this charity; it also includes kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness and encouragement. Therefore, we cannot be judges who only deny, reject and exclude.” 

According to Vatican News, Francis added that “pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage.”

LGBTQ+ advocates applauded Pope Francis’ decision.

GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said, “Pope Francis’ response is both unprecedented and compassionate and continues to urge every Catholic and leader toward acceptance and recognition of LGBTQ+ people.”

New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQ+ Catholic outreach group, said in a statement, “Though the Vatican’s latest statement about same-gender couples does not provide a full-fledged, ringing endorsement of blessing their unions, the document significantly advances Pope Francis’ work to include and affirm LGBTQ+ people.”

New Ways Ministry also said, “The allowance for pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God. Those recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would want, are an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality. This statement is one big straw towards breaking the camel’s back of the marginalized treatment LGBTQ+ people experience in the Church.”

Back in August — in one of the most iconic moments coming out of World Youth Day in Lisbon, Portugal — Pope Francis had called on the hundreds of thousands gathered before him to yell back at him that the Catholic Church is for “todos, todos, todos” — everyone, everyone, everyone.

When asked if “todos” included the LGBTQ+ community, he said that though the Church has its laws, it is still a place for everyone, including the LGBTQ+ community.

Pope Francis has also criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ+ people into the church.

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Francis said during an exclusive interview in January with The Associated Press.

The AP reported “Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against LGBTQ people, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of ‘sin.’ But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.”

Francis said, “These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Those groundbreaking comments by Pope Francis were the first statements on homosexuality as a crime ever said by a pope about such laws. Francis has been consistent in his statements that LGBTQ+ people should be made welcome in the Catholic Church and that the Church should not discriminate against anyone.

Declaring such laws “unjust,” Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to put an end to them.

“It must do this. It must do this,” he said.

Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying gay people must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.

“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said.

News of the Pope’s latest statements on LGBTQ+ unions came just days before the start of a major three-week meeting at the Vatican to discuss the state of the Catholic Church and its future. The three-week synod, or meeting, starts at the Vatican on Wednesday, Oct. 4 and will run until Oct. 29.

During the Synod, more than 450 people from around the world — cardinals, bishops, clergy, religious and laypeople — will take part in the worldwide gathering.

The meeting will address some hot-button issues, like the role of women in the church and the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. Advocacy groups are expected in Rome and at the Vatican to call attention to these issues during the synod. Among the groups expected are those representing the fight to end clergy abuse, the women’s ordination conference, LGBTQ+ inclusion and more.

Some Church watchers are calling this Synod on Synodality a historical event and a step forward for the Church. But many conservatives within the Church hierarchy and in reporting on the Catholic Church have suggested that the Synod could harm the Church and undermine Catholic teaching because of “radical revisions,” like actions Pope Francis has taken.

A group of conservative cardinals — Raymond Burke, Walter Brandmüller, Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez and Robert Sarah — concerned about Francis’s progressive statements on Catholic doctrine submitted a set of dubia, formal requests to the pope and Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith for clarification. Among those are blessings for same-sex couples, which some priests have been doing without papal permission in various European parishes.

According to a 2022 Gallup poll, about 71% of Americans think same-sex marriage should be legal. Public support for same-sex marriage has been above 50% since the early 2010s.