Pope Francis approves blessings for same-sex couples

Pope Francis formally approved allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples, the Vatican announced Monday, with the declaration “Fiducia supplicans” issued by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith codifying a stance Pope Francis alluded to in October, which PGN reported on at the time.

The action marks the most radical change yet in Church policy and one that adds one more element of inclusivity for LGBTQ+ people within the Church.

Pope Francis, who turned 87 on Dec. 17 and who has had several health challenges this year, has taken significant actions toward normalizing relationships between LGBTQ+ people and the Church. In early December, the Pope punished another anti-LGBTQ+ cardinal and in November, Francis said trans people can be baptized and be godparents. 

In its statement on blessings, the Vatican said, “With its untiring wisdom and motherly care, the Church welcomes all who approach God with humble hearts, accompanying them with those spiritual aids that enable everyone to understand and realize God’s will fully in their existence.”

The document issued Monday says that blessings of same-sex couples “should not suggest even the trappings of sacramental marriage, including traditional wedding vestments” or even ceremonies formally recognizing same-sex unions. The document delineates guidelines for granting benedictions to people in same-sex relationships and explicitly allows permission to “ordained ministers” to conduct such blessings.

But within the rubrics of the ruling, priests are urged to use “prudent and fatherly discernment” to determine when such blessings are appropriate. “Couples of the same sex” may receive priestly blessings, the Vatican said, so that these “human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel.”

While the decree from the Vatican maintains the Church’s ban on same-sex marriage, it also signals a radical shift in attitude toward gay and lesbian couples. Previous suggestions that such unions be blessed were deemed abjectly wrong, as they would appear to bless homosexuality, which the Church still calls a sin and morally “disordered.”

As recently as 2021, the Vatican had reaffirmed its ban on blessing same-sex unions, calling them not “even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

But the Pope’s policies of inclusivity have continued to evolve and Francis has not punished priests in Europe who have blessed couples despite the ban. In September 2022, bishops of the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium published a blessing ceremony for same-sex couples in their dioceses.

In March, the German Synodal Way passed a resolution for a formal liturgical blessing of same-sex unions. Then in August, the archbishop of Berlin said that he would not discipline priests who blessed same-sex couples and published a list of clergy willing to offer them.

More critically, Francis replaced the conservatives who authored the 2021 decision in September. The Pope chose the very popular Argentinian progressive, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández to head the ministry in charge of Vatican doctrine. It was Fernández who signed this latest Vatican decree.

Fernández, acknowledged that the broadening of the scope of who could receive blessings amounted to “a real development” and that the decision was “based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis.”

In the text’s introductory note, Cardinal Fernández wrote, “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.”

In a story headlined “Vatican Says Priests Can Bless Same-Sex Couples Without Condoning Their Lifestyles,” and dismissing same-sex relationships as “lifestyle choices,” the National Catholic Register wrote, “The ruling — the latest in a flurry of documents published by the DDF since Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández took over as prefect in September — is likely to generate further controversy on the issue, with both proponents and critics seeing it as a possible opening to additional changes down the road.”

The New York Times reported that on Tuesday morning, Damian Steidl Jack, 44, and his husband, Jason Steidl Jack, 38, stood before Jesuit priest Father James Martin, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the Church. In a living room on Manhattan’s West Side the two made history as the first couple in the U.S. to receive such a blessing.

The Times, which also photographed the event, reported Martin said, “‘May the Lord bless and keep you,’ Father Martin began, touching the two men’s shoulders. They bowed their heads slightly, and held hands.”

Martin continued, “May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his countenance to you and give you joy and peace. And may almighty God bless you,” he said, making the sign of the cross, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

The Times wrote, “And then, with emotion evident on their faces, the three men hugged.” 

“It was really nice,” Father Martin said on Tuesday, “to be able to do that publicly.”

The formal and definitive permission by the Pope for Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples was welcomed by LGBTQ+ advocates as well as lesbian and gay couples. Dignity Philadelphia issued a detailed statement on the decree.

“Dignity Philadelphia acknowledges Pope Francis’ announcement approving priests to bless same sex couples as a significant and meaningful step forward for LGBTQ+ Catholics — in Philadelphia and around the world,” Dignity Philadelphia wrote, adding, “This proclamation by Pope Francis is an example of his leadership toward an inclusive Church more welcoming of LGBTQ+ people.”

Kaeden Carroll, a member of Dignity Philadelphia since 2019, said, “There is something beautiful about reclaiming a space that you haven’t always felt welcome in. This is the experience that I’ve had coming back to my Catholic faith as a queer person.”

Carroll said, “Growing up I had always assumed I would get married in a church, so in some ways, my marriage to my partner didn’t feel ‘official’ until we had our marriage blessed by one of the presiders in our community. This declaration from Pope Francis on the blessing of same-sex unions feels like a recognition of the intersectionality of identities that we as queer Catholics experience every day.”

Michael Rocks, President of Dignity Philadelphia, said, “Pope Francis is a true Shepherd and he cares deeply about Catholics who have been pushed to the ‘fringes’ of the Church for centuries, including LGBTQ+ people. We have seen him guide Catholic leadership in a more progressive and welcoming direction and are extremely pleased about this recent development. It is clear that the Pope has been listening to advocates such as Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Marianne Duddy-Burke, who both met with the Pope this fall.”

Alaina N. Longo, Deputy Communications Officer for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, responded to PGN for Kenneth A. Gavin, Chief Communications Officer for the Archdiocese. She shared the Archdiocese’s response to the decree, which is the embrace of a statement of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on the Vatican’s document addressing Papal Blessings.

“In response to the Declaration ‘Fiducia supplicans’ issued by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) offered the following statement from its spokesperson, Chieko Noguchi, executive director of public affairs.”

The statement reads, “The Declaration issued today by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) articulated a distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings, and pastoral blessings, which may be given to persons who desire God’s loving grace in their lives. The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.”

The Archdiocese has not yet published a list of priests who will conduct such blessings. Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology at Villanova University, told the New York Times, “I’m sure many old bishops are open to this, and many young priests will have to be convinced,” noting that young Catholic priests in the U.S. are overwhelmingly conservative.

Learn more at dignityphila.org and dignityusa.org.

Newsletter Sign-up