What Catholics Are Saying About The Pope’s Decision To Bless Same-Sex Couples


NEW YORK — Catholics around the world continued to debate on Tuesday the decision by Pope Francis to allow priests to bless same-sex couples

Many rejoiced in seeing the headlines about the decision, while others across the doctrinal spectrum argued it could sow confusion and exacerbate tensions further between progressives and conservatives within the church.  

The 5,000-word document — known as Fiducia supplicans and issued by the Vatican’s Doctrine of the Faith on Monday — elaborated on a letter the pontiff sent to cardinals that was published in October. In that letter, Pope Francis had said such blessings could be offered under some circumstances if they didn’t confuse the ritual with the sacrament of marriage.

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This new declaration repeated those conditions, but also reaffirmed that marriage is a lifelong sacrament between a man and a woman. The Vatican said the blessing of these “irregular” situations — which also includes divorced Catholics — must be non-liturgical in nature and cannot be done at the same time as a civil union. 

The document “will undoubtedly be considered yet another black mark on the memory of this pontificate, according to Steven O’Reilly, who runs a blog called Roma Locuta Est.

“Now, in an effort to defend this document, the Francisapologists or ‘popesplainers‘ will no doubt rely on the fact that the new Vatican document does say that the ‘form’ of the blessings for individuals in same sex relationships ‘should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the sacrament of marriage,’” he said. “So, the document in its first few sections appears to be consistent with past teaching.”

Pope grabs headlines 

The Vatican declaration certainly gained him many headlines around the world — many of them favorable in tone across North America and Western Europe.

“In other words, conscientious Catholics can look at the document and say, ‘It doesn’t say what the headlines says it says. It says that two individuals can be blessed, but not as a couple,’” wrote Michael Brenden Dougherty, a writer at National Review and a practicing Catholic. “To me, the confusion looks deliberate. The entire document was a response to a question from certain quarters of the church: Can we bless same-sex couples or other couples who are married in the eyes of the law, but not those of the church? The response from the Vatican was technically ‘negative.’”

Creating doctrinal confusion has been the hallmark of the Francis papacy since he took over for Benedict XVI in 2013. As a result, the pope makes statements that are often misinterpreted by news organizations and on social media.

“Like many other documents published in the current pontificate, this one has been sadly misrepresented by the mainstream media outlets,” said Ambrose Criste is a Norbertine priest from St. Michael’s Abbey in Orange County, Calif. “I haven’t given the document a careful reading yet, but from what I have seen at a first cursory glance it does what many other recent documents do … it states clearly the perennial teaching of the church, but then goes on to obfuscate the matter to the degree that bad actors (such as priests and faithful who do not uphold those perennial teachings) can think and act as if the church has changed her perennial teaching.”

Criste said “this means that those in the church who do not agree with her perennial teaching can find an excuse to teach and act contrary to that perennial teaching. In this case, making it seem as if the church has changed her stance on gay marriage, which she clearly has not.”

In a post on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who is Catholic, wrote: “As usual in this pontificate, the ‘misleading’ media headlines are the point.”

What the bishops are saying 

The U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference spoke in a single voice by issuing a statement hours after the announcement came from Rome. 

In a statement, the USCBC said the declaration “articulated a distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings and pastoral blessings, which may be given to persons who desire God’s loving grace in their lives. The church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.” 

But some cardinals did put out their own statements on the matter. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said he encouraged “those who have questions to read the Vatican declaration closely, and in continuity with the church’s perennial teaching. Doing so will enable one to understand how it encourages pastoral solicitude while maintaining fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich, considered a progressive, gave the declaration a thumbs up.

“Here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, we welcome this declaration, which will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God,” he said in a statement.

James Martin, a Jesuit priest who administers to gay and lesbian Catholics, said the declaration “opens the door, for the first time, for the official blessings of same-sex couples by ministers of the church, something that has long been desired by LGBTQ Catholics and their families and friends.”

“Before this document was issued, there was no permission for bishops, priests and deacons to bless couples in same-sex unions in any setting,” he wrote in a column posted to the America magazine website. “This document establishes, with some limitations, that they can.”

While priests such as Martin applauded the move, opponents fired back. In remarks made to LifeSiteNews, Bishop Joseph Strickland, recently removed by the pope as head of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, encouraged “my brother bishops that we all join with a voice of strength and joy in the Lord in these last days of Advent and say ‘no’ to this latest document.”

“We will not incorporate this into the life of the church because we simply must say ‘no.’ And it needs to be a united voice,” he added.

Meanwhile, Ronald Vierling, a Catholic priest, posted on X that “the goal of authentic pastoral practice is the conversion of sinners” and that “pastoral outreach must be subordinate to the imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd, whose consistent, unwavering call is to repentance and conversion of life.” 

Stephen P. White, executive director of The Catholic Project at The Catholic University of America, told Catholic News Agency that the declaration ultimately acknowledges what Catholics should already know: “God does not and cannot bless sin; but he can and often does bless sinners — particularly when they ask him for the grace to grow in holiness.” 

But White said that the document “warned repeatedly” about avoiding “scandal and confusion” — something not likely to happen going forward.  

“Any hopes of avoiding such confusion and scandal seem to have evaporated almost instantly upon publication of the decree,” he added. “This was entirely predictable: From the wildly misleading press coverage, to the triumphalism from advocates of scrapping the church’s teaching on sex and marriage to the insistence from certain corners of the church that they are now free to do precisely what the decree forbids.”

In regards to creating confusion, O’Reilly agreed, saying “assurances that confusion should be avoided” ring hollow when we consider how “bishops and priests … will implement sections of the document.”

Will priests conduct such blessings? 

The document said priests “should not prevent or prohibit the church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing.” 

Phil Lawler, editor of Catholic World News, wrote that the document issued by the Vatican “earnestly insists on a distinction between giving a blessing to a homosexual couple and blessing their relationship.”

“Good luck conveying that distinction to the world,” he added. “Anyone can ask a priest for a blessing; that has never been in question. But when two people ask a priest to confer a blessing on them as a couple, how can the church avoid the impression that the priest, as representative of the Catholic faith, is blessing their union?”

How and whether priests will confer such blessings remains to be seen. A survey released this fall — the largest national survey of Catholic priests conducted in more than 50 years — found, among other things, priests describing themselves as “progressive” are going “extinct” among U.S. seminary graduates, with the vast majority of young ordinands describing themselves as conservative and orthodox.

Conducted by The Catholic Project, the latest installment of the report focused on generational dynamics and the ongoing impact of the sexual abuse crisis. The study used survey responses from 3,516 priests across the United States.

“Simply put, the portion of new priests who see themselves as politically ‘liberal’ or theologically ‘progressive’ has been steadily declining since the Second Vatican Council and has now all but vanished,” the report found. “More than half of the priests who were ordained since 2010 see themselves on the conservative side of the scale. No surveyed priests who were ordained after 2020 described themselves as ‘very progressive.’”

Researchers said 85% of the youngest clergy cohort described itself as “conservative/orthodox” or “very conservative/orthodox” theologically, while only 14% described themselves as “middle-of-the-road.” By contrast, the report said nearly 70% of priests ordained in the 1960s describe themselves as somewhat or very “progressive.” By 2020, fewer than 5% of priests describe themselves that way.

These numbers only take into account U.S. priests. Debates about this new decree in the Global South — particularly in Africa — where the church is growing could cause some issues. Bishops across Africa have rejected such calls in the past and as recently as October following the meeting of bishops known as the Synod on Synodality.

Bishop John Oballa, who heads the Ngong Diocese in Kenya, told The New York Times that he and his fellow African prelates are having a wait-and-see attitude.

“We are sure many questions will be coming from the congregation,” he said. “They will like to know how far this goes, what implications it will have and what it portends for the future.”

Socrates Villegas, archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan in majority-Catholic nation of the Philippines, said, “This blessing of mercy is not and cannot be a blessing of sanctification since we cannot ask God to bless something that, as Fiducia supplicans explains, is not ‘conformed to God’s will, as expressed in the teachings of the church.’”

“Priests who are invited to bless couples in irregular situations should choose the appropriate words to reveal this intent of the church,” he added.

What about the possibility of a schism? Criste said not so fast.

“That said, there is already something of a ‘shadow schism’ in that the orthodox bishops, priests and faithful continue to teach what the church has always taught about these matters,” he said. “The majority of practicing Catholics in North America, and the majority of clergy here, represent this orthodox Catholicism. The heterodox Catholics, on the other hand — both among the clergy and the laity — will use this confusing document as an excuse to advance their heterodoxy.”

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