After a group of conservative cardinals urged him to confirm the Catholic teachings on LGBTQ+ issues, Pope Francis responded by suggesting that same-sex couples could have their unions blessed in church, marking a huge reversal of the Vatican’s stance.
On Monday, October 2, the Vatican published a letter that Pope Francis wrote in July in which he said that, while the church still recognises marriage as a union between a man and a woman, same-sex couples should have the opportunity to have their partnership blessed. The Pope stated that “pastoral charity” requires patience and understanding and that priests shouldn’t become judges “who only deny, reject and exclude”.
“When you ask for a blessing, you are expressing a request for help from God, a prayer to be able to live better, a trust in a father who can help us live better,” he wrote, adding that priests should use “pastoral charity” in their responses to same-sex couples who asked for blessings.
The letter was in response to a list of five questions, also called “dubia”, sent to the Pope by five conservative cardinals from Europe, Asia, Africa and the American continent, who are among Francis’s most vocal critics and were appointed by St John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI. In their letter, they challenged the Pope to affirm church teachings on LGBTQ+ issues, women’s ordination and other matters.
Francis’ response to their letter marks a reversal from the Vatican’s official position on the matter. Speaking on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, former Irish President Mary McAleese, who is also a doctor in canon law, explained: “It’s a complete contradiction of what the pope himself said through a document that was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2021.”
⛪ In a letter dated July but only now released by the Vatican, Pope Francis has raised the possibility of blessing same-sex unions.
🏳️🌈 Pope Francis admits the possibility of blessing unions between people of the same sex, with some conditions. pic.twitter.com/dcelPBf2Kd
— Openly 🏳️🌈 (@Openly) October 3, 2023
In that instance, the Pope stated that same-sex unions could not be blessed because “God cannot bless sin”. The complete turnaround from that stance follows a decision by the German Synod, which allowed the blessing of same-sex unions by Catholic clergy in the city of Cologne.
Further explaining what transpired before this latest development, McAleese added, “And then we had the remarkable thing that happened in Belgium last year when Bishop Bonney issued a new liturgy precisely for gay couples, gay married couples who wanted a blessing in the Catholic Church. So this is Francis losing the old tin ear and listening to the voice, the very strong voice, that has come from right around the world and will certainly be heard.”
She continued, “And I have to say that part of the change in attitude from Pope Francis has been greatly helped, I think, by the work that was done here in Ireland, in the Irish version of the Irish part of the synod by Ursula Halligan’s LGBTI focus group, and they’re the group that put a report together and thank you to the Bishop of Elphin Kevin Doran, who asked them to do it. And their document really went viral. Just went viral.”
The newfound openness by the Pope was also welcomed by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ Catholics. In a statement, he said that the letter “significantly advances” efforts to make LGBTQ+ people feel welcomed in the Catholic Church.
“The allowance for pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies that the church does indeed recognise that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God,” DeBernardo said.
“Those recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would want, are an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality.”
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