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Pope Francis signals openness to blessings for same-sex couples

Pope Francis has proposed blessing same-sex couples. However, even supporters of such a significant change have noted that it is likely to meet strong intense opposition in society, according to The Washington Times.

In a letter dated 11 July to the five cardinals who sent questions, Francis reaffirmed “the very clear concept of marriage accepted in the Catholic Church: an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the birth of children.” He wrote:

Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or several people, that do not transmit a wrong conception of marriage. 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.

The Pope’s comments are diametrically opposed to the Vatican’s May 2021 statement, which read in part:

It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.

Now the Pope, who said of gay priests seeking to follow Jesus, “Who am I to judge?” has opened the door to sweeping change for the world’s 1.378 billion Catholics.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith published these comments on Monday. Five cardinals, considered conservative by many and one of whom criticised the upcoming important meeting in a pamphlet sent recently to all priests and bishops in the US, demanded yes-or-no answers to their questions.

The five cardinals include Joseph Tsen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong who was arrested in 2022 for supporting democratic groups, Walter Brandmüller of Germany, a former Vatican historian, Juan Sandoval of Mexico, the retired archbishop of Guadalajara, Raymond Burke of the United States, whom Francis ousted as head of the Vatican’s highest court, and Robert Sarah of Guinea, the retired head of the Vatican’s liturgical service.

The Pope, who has previously given the go-ahead for civil marriages for same-sex couples, is now talking about potentially supporting some Church “blessing” for such couples, provided the partnership does not resemble the sacrament of marriage.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops had no comment on the matter. Francis’ proposal has encouraged LGBTQ Catholics such as Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBTQ organisation Dignity USA. Ms. Duddy-Burke said in a telephone interview:

Anything that shows that our church recognizes the sacredness that exists in love between members of same-sex couples is a tremendous step forward. And [it] will give LGBTQ people and families lots of reasons to rejoice.

She claimed Dignity USA has “been blessing and marrying same-sex couples since the 1970s. So we already serve as Catholic communities where gay, lesbian, bisexual couples, trans couples can come and have their relationships blessed, and we believe it is a totally sacramental experience for those people.”

Ryan Di Corpo, managing editor of Outreach.faith, which bills itself as an “LGBTQ Catholic resource said:

Francis has opened, I think, a pastoral way of welcoming LGBTQ people, especially those who are in relationships into the church.LGBTQ people, many of whom are Catholic and many of whom are in committed relationships, are as much a part of the church as heterosexual straight couples.

Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life, who was stripped of his ministry by Pope Francis last year, believes the pontiff’s words could cause a storm in a glass. Mr. Pavone said via email:

It is not enough to make an argument that something can technically be done or that we ‘might be able to find a way’ to do it. When people come away from us, there should not be question marks in their minds and hearts about what the faith means, but rather exclamation points in their minds leading them to live and proclaim it. What Pope Francis and his theologians want to ‘study’ or say is not my responsibility. However, I will fulfill my responsibility, just as so many parents fulfill their responsibilities as they pass on the faith to their children, to clearly uphold the Gospel of Christ without confusion.

The Rev. Frank DeSiano, president of Paulista Evangelistic Ministries in the district, said Francis’ comments “kind of flow from his previous statements about the church’s accompaniment” of people on their spiritual journey. Father DeSiano said:

I suspect there will be a very big ruckus. At the same time, most dioceses have parishes where gay people have been welcomed and accepted; this has gone on for years, and most dioceses have some kind of ministry to gay people.

Mrs Duddy-Burke said her group was also looking forward to feedback from parishioners. She said:

There already is division and difference of opinion in our church, and there are many who are campaigning for more restrictive laws and policies, as well as pastoral practices in the name of the Catholic faith. Just as there are people who are out there supporting equality in all its forms. I hope that we can deliberate this and move forward in ways that are respectful and inclusive.

In Rome, Gerard O’Connell, Vatican correspondent for the Jesuit magazine America, says the question of how the blessing will be framed will continue to generate debate. Mr. O’Connell said:

It’s certainly an issue that will at some stage be given greater attention. I  believe the Diacastry for the Doctrine of the Faith will probably come out with [a] further development of this question.

The letter was published two days before the start of a three-week synod (meeting) at the Vatican that has LGBTQ Catholics and their place in the church on its agenda. In  the letter, the five cardinals demanded that Francis reaffirm church teaching on homosexuals, the ordination of women, the authority of the pope and other issues. Hours later, the  Vatican’s doctrinal office published the pope’s response, but without his opening statement, in which he urged the cardinals not to be intimidated by the synod.

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