[Religion News Service — Vatican City] With Pope Francis’ encouragement, the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a document on Dec. 18 allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples.
The document grants priests “the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.”
But the document cautions that any rites or prayers that may be confused with marriage, which the Catholic Church considers to be a sacrament exclusively for the union of a man and a woman, “are inadmissible” for same-sex couples. It adds that “the Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm.”
The document, signed by the recently appointed prefect of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, and approved by Pope Francis, broadens the understanding of blessings in the Catholic faith by detaching them from the liturgy and sacraments.
“When considered outside of a liturgical framework, these expressions of faith are found in a realm of greater spontaneity and freedom,” the doctrinal statement read. “In this way, blessings become a pastoral resource to be valued rather than a risk or a problem.”
Those seeking a blessing do not have to undergo “an exhaustive moral analysis,” nor should they “be required to have prior moral perfection,” the document states.
It will be up to the priest to exercise “pastoral prudence and wisdom” to avoid any scandal among the faithful or confusion of the blessing with a marriage ceremony, the statement read. Clergy “should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples in an irregular situation,” and they must never perform the blessing during a ceremony for a civil union, it added.
“God never turns away anyone who approaches him!” the document stated, underlining that a blessing is a way to allow for God’s mercy and closeness. “It is a seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered,” it read. The document said that the decision aims to allow faithful to be closer to God and that “there is no intention to legitimize anything.”
In a letter released by the Vatican on Oct. 2, in response to questions from five conservative cardinals, Pope Francis called for “pastoral prudence” in discerning the question of blessings for same-sex couples but also instructed priests to avoid acting “like judges who only deny, reject, and exclude.”
A hot-button issue for years, the question of blessings for same-sex couples has been pressed by clergy in Germany and other parts of Europe, who have demanded that the church allow the practice. A series of gatherings and conferences of Catholic clergy and lay organizations in Germany, known as the Synodal Path, defied the Vatican’s warnings and performed same-sex blessings in churches and public places, causing controversy.
In March 2021, the Vatican’s doctrinal department had issued a two-page document banning same-sex blessings, stating that God “cannot bless sin.” Francis later overhauled the department with reforms and placed Fernandez as the new head. The statement on Monday underlines that blessings don’t always originate from God but can also be imparted by faithful onto others.