Pope Francis has suggested that he is open to the idea of the Catholic Church blessing same-sex unions.
Responding to a group of five conservative cardinals who challenged him to affirm church teaching on homosexuality, he said that “pastoral charity” requires patience and understanding. “We cannot be judges “who only deny, reject and exclude.”
The Vatican had on Monday published a letter Francis wrote to the cardinals on July 11 after receiving a list of five questions, or “dubia”, from them. In it, Francis suggested that blessings for homosexual unions could be studied if they didn’t confuse the blessing with sacramental marriage.
The five cardinals – conservative prelates from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas – had challenged Pope Francis to affirm church teaching on gays, women’s ordination, the authority of the pope and other issues in their letter. This was ahead of a weeks-long global gathering to discuss the future of the Church that starts today.
Currently, the Vatican officially holds that marriage is an indissoluble union between a man and a woman. It continues to oppose gay marriage. In an explanatory note in 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said flat-out that the church couldn’t bless gay unions because “God cannot bless sin.”
However, Pope Francis has voiced support for same-sex spouses on several occasions recently. In August, the Pope said that the Catholic Church is open to everyone, including the gay community.
In his new letter, Francis reiterated that matrimony is a union between a man and a woman but he wrote, “Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of benediction, requested by one or more persons, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage.”
“Because when a benediction is requested, it is expressing a request for help from God, a plea to be able to live better, a trust in a father who can help us to live better,” he said.
Francis added that there is no need for dioceses or bishops conferences to turn such pastoral charity into fixed norms or protocols, saying the issue could be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
New Ways Ministry, which advocates inclusive Catholicism, said the letter “significantly advances” efforts towards LGBTQ+ people being welcomed in the Catholic church. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, welcomed the Pope’s openness.
“The allowance for pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God,” he said in a statement, as quoted by Associated Press. “Those recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would want, are an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality.”