Metro Weekly

Pope Francis Approves Limited Blessings for Same-Sex Couples

Roman Catholic Church guidance now permits priests to bless same-sex unions, in limited instances, outside of ritual celebrations.

Pope Francis – Photo: Mazur, via

The Vatican will allow priests to bless same-sex unions in limited and specific circumstances, as long as they do not take place within the context of church rituals or liturgical celebrations.

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal office, issued the declaration on Monday, Dec. 18, setting forth the criteria for which Catholic priests may bless same-sex unions — provided they are not held up as equivalent to a marriage, which is considered a holy sacrament and may only occur between individuals of the opposite sex.

The eight-page declaration is co-signed by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the office’s doctrinal secretary, Monsignor Armando Matteo.

The declaration draws distinctions between liturgical blessings and spontaneous or personal ones, allowing Catholic priests to offer those more informal blessings to same-sex couples or those in “irregular” unions.

It also clarifies that the couples “should not be required to have prior moral perfection” as a precondition for obtaining the blessing, which is viewed as a prayer to God to help the recipients “mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel.”

While the declaration permits individual priests to offer blessings, it also emphasizes that they cannot occur within the context of a liturgical celebration and does not allow them to “be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”

Priests must also offer those blessings without any prepared texts or rituals while adhering to the narrow guidelines set forth by the Vatican.

The declaration marks a significant shift in tone from past doctrine, under which the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith said, just two years ago, that God “cannot bless sin” with respect to same-sex couples.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, initiated a major shakeup within the Vatican when he appointed Fernández, a fellow Argentine, to lead the church’s doctrinal office. 

In one of his first interviews, Fernández indicated that the question of gay blessings would likely be examined in the future as questions around LGBTQ inclusion have become a contentious issue in recent years.

The new declaration comes less than three months after Pope Francis personally held open the possibility of blessing same-sex unions unofficially in response to “dubia” — or inquiries — from five retired cardinals famous for espousing rigid views on doctrinal issues.

They had sought to corner Francis on hot-button issues like homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and the ordination of female priests in the hopes he would reaffirm the Church’s longstanding conservative stances.

Although the instances in which priests may bless same-sex unions remain narrow, Monday’s announcement was hailed as a significant step towards greater inclusion by LGBTQ advocates, who have seen Francis as a more open-minded and conciliatory figure than his predecessors.

While still opposing same-sex marriage and viewing homosexual acts as sinful, Francis has been an outspoken opponent of laws that call for the imprisonment or execution of LGBTQ individuals for engaging in same-sex activity.

He has made overtures toward the LGBTQ community, indicating that all are welcome in the Church, and even rebuking Catholic parents who seek to “condemn” their gay children.

In October, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that transgender individuals may be baptized in the Church, serve as godparents to christened children, and be witnesses for weddings.

“A Christmas gift for our LGBTQ+ community worldwide is the news that our Catholic church will be able to bless same-sex couples. We are so happy and grateful for this decision,” Richard Zaldivar, the executive director and founder of The Wall Las Memorias, a Los Angeles-based LGBTQ+ Latino community-based organization, said in a statement.

“For too long, our Catholic LGBTQ+ community has sought a safe spiritual space in our church, especially for those who are in a committed relationship,’ Zaldivar said. “We have moved a giant step towards equality in our church and we know that it takes time. We thank our Pope Francis for his leadership on this issues and his promotion of inclusion of all Catholics to the church.”

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD, praised the move.

“By removing barriers to priests blessing LGBTQ couples, the Pope accurately recognizes that LGBTQ people and our relationships are worthy of the same affirmation and support in the Church, and this strengthens couples in their faith and to the community,” Ellis said in a statement.

“This is the latest in a historic pattern of actions and announcements from Pope Francis which show that LGBTQ people should not be used as a dividing issue, and we are worthy of love, respect, and compassion.”

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