Vatican says yes to blessings of same-sex unions

ROME — The Vatican on Monday issued its most definitive permission yet for Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples, as long as those benedictions are kept separate from marriage, a decree that fully reverses a 2021 ruling — and that may deepen division over the open-door papacy of Pope Francis.

The ruling by the powerful Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith expands on a far briefer statement of support for such blessings issued by Francis in September in response to questions raised by conservative clerics. The document on Monday, described as likely to be the most comprehensive on the issue to emerge from the Vatican on the question, repeats the assertion that such blessings should not suggest even the trappings of sacramental marriage — including traditional wedding vestments. But it explicitly gives permission to “ordained ministers” to conduct such blessings, asking them to use their own “prudent and fatherly discernment” to decide when doing so is appropriate.

Amid liberal revolt, pope signals openness to blessings for gay couples

Couples in “irregular situations” as well as “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.”

“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 Vatican said.

The ruling finds the Vatican charting a direct course forward on an issue that has already deeply divided the Anglican church, and found conservative Catholic voices — particularly in the United States, Africa and Eastern Europe — denouncing any efforts to formalize same-sex blessings. Catholic priests in Western Europe and elsewhere have come under fire from conservatives, and even been chastised by the Vatican in the past, for engaging in same sex blessings.

The document contradicts a 2021 Vatican statement that confirmed a ban on blessing same-sex unions, calling them “not even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” Francis has since also notably removed the conservative officials said to be the architect of that decision and appointed a fellow Argentine who has taken a different view.

The expanded ruling on Monday appeared to once again starkly illustrate how Francis, who has moved against his conservative critics this year, appears to be growing less cautions in the latter stage of his papacy, even as he stakes out a more progressive position on same-sex blessings than the broader faith he leads.

How and whether to welcome LGBTQ+ Catholics became the most divisive issue in month-long October meeting on the direction of the faith in Vatican City, with the wording of a concluding report failing to use inclusive language coined by the pope himself and declining to even use the term LGBTQ.

“The Vatican’s new declaration is a huge a step forward for the church’s ministry for LGBTQ people,” said the Rev. James Martin, an American priest who ministers to the LGBTQ+ community and was handpicked as a delegate by Francis. “It provides guidelines, and it leaves a lot of it up to the minister. But this is a gift to LGBTQ Catholics and the document itself is a blessing.”

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