Why did Pope Francis remove doubt about same sex blessings

same sex blessings

Pope Francis, who made headlines in the first months of his papacy by responding, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests, has now signed off on a Vatican decree that priests cannot bless same-sex unions since God “cannot bless sin.”

The decree, issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on March 15, states, “It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage.”

For some, the new decree may result in whiplash, coming less than five months after the pope made headlines in a documentary film for once more affirming his support of civil union laws for same-sex couples.

For others, it’s further affirmation of the church’s teaching that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

But for all, it’s another tricky move in Francis’ tightrope walk of upholding church teaching, while also trying to extend a warmer welcome to LGBTQ persons.

What and whom may a priest bless and why?

A priest can bless a house, an automobile and a pet; the 400-page Book of Blessings, which is both approved by the Vatican and local bishops’ conferences, even includes prayers for fishing gear, boats and athletic fields.

Among the objects and persons that can be blessed by priests are gay individuals — but with a caveat.

According to the new decree, a priest can bless a person who happens to be gay, but they must “manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.”

The same conditions apply to “any union that involves sexual activity outside of marriage.”

“This is a version of the old tried-and-true ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’ mentality that shows up not only in Roman Catholicism but in other Christian denominations,” said Patrick Hornbeck, professor of theology at Fordham University.

“The comparison would be the priest can bless the car, but the priest can’t bless the car that he knows is going to be used in a bank robbery,” Hornbeck told NCR.

“Here, what the Vatican is saying is by the very nature of who LGBTQ people are, their bodies and their selves are such that they cannot be blessed in relationship with one another.”

What’s behind the timing of this decree?

“It seems to be the Vatican’s response to some German bishops who had floated this idea in the lead-up to their country’s synod, as a way of reaching out to LGBTQ people,” Jesuit Fr. James Martin, a leading advocate for improving the church’s ministry toward LGBTQ Catholics, told NCR.

The German Catholic Church’s “Synodal Path” is a two-year process aiming to tackle neuralgic church issues, such as women’s leadership and the inclusion of LGBTQ persons.

In 2019, Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, deputy chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference, said that he is “sure that the category of blessing will play a role” in the synodal process.

Bode, who has previously supported an open debate on blessings of same-sex unions, has said, “We must not always treat homosexuality from the point of view of serious sin.”

Similarly, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who serves on Francis’ council of cardinal advisers, has said that gay couples can receive a blessing from the church “in the sense of pastoral care,” though he sought to distinguish it from the same blessing the church offers to married couples, saying, “The sacrament of marriage is aimed at a faithful relationship between a man and a woman that is open to children.” Continue reading

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