Pope Francis says priests can now bless same-sex couples. This is his most definitive step yet to make the Roman Catholic Church more welcoming to LGBTQ Catholics.
However, even with the new policy, the church has made clear that a blessing of a same-sex couple is not the same as a marriage sacrament.
Ruth Graham, a Dallas-based reporter who covers religion for The New York Times, said this change is significant and represents Pope Francis’ more pastoral approach to welcoming more people into the church.
“It’s a complicated question to ask if it’s a formal change to doctrine. The church would say ‘no,’ its critics would say ‘yes.’ Internal critics, too, would say ‘yes,’” Graham said. “But basically it’s walking a thin tightrope where it’s not saying all of a sudden homosexuality isn’t a sin. It’s not saying that gay marriages are valid in the Catholic Church or that a priest can perform a gay marriage.
But it is saying that basically in informal settings that don’t resemble weddings, a priest can bless a gay couple the same way he could bless any individual who approaches them for prayer and without quizzing them about their adherence to Catholic doctrine.”
Graham said bishops in the United States have been reacting differently, as this document puts the decision on local church officials to respond how they see fit.
“It’s been one day now, and this is a church that measures time and millennia, so they don’t always respond immediately. But for example, Archbishop Cordileone in San Francisco, who is quite conservative on these matters, issued just a short statement that said ‘read the document carefully and note that it does not change the church’s teaching,’” Graham said. “On the other hand, Cardinal Cupich in Chicago has said that they will welcome the chance to issue these blessings.”
Graham said a good modern comparison for this change is when the church loosened its stance on divorce and divorces.
“I think that’s a good comparison because again, it’s not a radical rewriting of doctrine, but it’s a change in emphasis and it’s a change in the direction of welcoming more people to the table,” she said. “So there’s a lot of those parallels in terms of the Eucharist where conservative Catholics would like to emphasize, you know, sort of the high standards to approaching that table. And progressives, including Pope Francis, would like to emphasize sort of the open and welcoming of more people to the table.”
Graham said she is still talking to everyday Catholics about what this change means to them.
“We do know that some people immediately called up their priest and wanted one of these blessings,” she said. “I think for others who have been hurt by the church and by sort of decades of a different approach on this, you know, they might not be making that call first thing this morning and returning to the church.
But I think for some gay Catholics, this will be really significant. It is a sort of welcome and a sort of, again, not a formal approval, but a blessing. It’s significant.”