Ruling approved by Pope Francis marks a significant step forward by the Catholic church
The report follows a letter Pope Francis published in October in which he said such blessings could be offered so long as they were not confused with the sacrament of marriage.
Pope Francis has approved a ruling allowing priests to bless unmarried and same-sex couples in a significant change of position for the Catholic church.
A report from the Vatican’s doctrinal office, details of which were published on Vatican News on Monday, said such blessings would be permitted, albeit with caveats.
“It will be possible to bless same-sex couples but without any type of ritualisation or offering the impression of a marriage,” the report said. Furthermore, “the doctrine regarding marriage does not change, and the blessing does not signify approval of the union”.
Despite the limitations, however, the announcement marks a significant step forward by the Vatican, which in 2021 said the Catholic church could not bless same-sex couples as God “does not bless sin”.
One Vatican observer described the move as “likely the most concrete pastoral shift on the church’s stance toward gay couples in the church’s 2,000-year history”.
The report said priests should decide on a case-by-case basis and “should not prevent or prohibit the church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing”.
However, it stressed that the gesture must avoid “any form of confusion or scandal”, so that when a same-sex couple sought a blessing, it “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.”
Instead, such a blessing “may instead find its place in other contexts, such as a visit to a shrine, a meeting with a priest, a prayer recited in a group, or during a pilgrimage”.
The report follows a letter Pope Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published in October. In the letter, Francis said such blessings could be offered in certain circumstances, so long as they were not confused with the sacrament of marriage.
Speaking on Monday, Christopher White, Vatican reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, said: “While the Vatican’s declaration is very narrow in scope, it represents a tremendous development in both the church’s teaching and practice, likely the most concrete pastoral shift on the church’s stance toward gay couples in the church’s 2,000-year history.
“Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has used an entirely different tone in talking about gay people than past popes. But this is the first time the letter of the law has actually been changed to signify the church is opening up on the matter.
“That being said, it has a number of caveats – not allowing the blessing to be held in a liturgical ceremony, separating it from the church’s official blessings book, etc – and as such, it almost certainly won’t be seen as going far enough for those who want gay couples to receive full, sacramental inclusion in church life.”
Father James Martin, a prominent American Jesuit priest who administers to the LGBTQ+ community, called the document “a major step forward”.
In a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, Martin said the document “recognises the deep desire in many Catholic same-sex couples for God’s presence in their loving relationships.”
“Along with many priests, I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex unions,” he said.
Since he was elected pope in March 2013, Francis, who turned 87 on Sunday, has sought to adopt a more inclusive tone towards the LGBTQ+ community in his public statements, much to the disdain of conservative cardinals.
Soon after becoming pope, he said in response to a question about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?”
In an interview for a documentary film in 2020, Francis for the first time publicly endorsed giving gay people rights within same-sex unions. However, his comments related to the civil domain and not within the Catholic church.
During his papacy, Francis has embraced openness to progression in other areas, such as allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion, a move lambasted by conservative Catholics as “heresy”.