The Vatican said Monday that while God “cannot bless sin,” the Catholic Church will not bless same-sex marriages.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s orthodoxy agency, has released a formal response to a query regarding whether Catholic clergy have the right to bless gay marriages. The response was “no,” as stated in a two-page clarification approved by Pope Francis and published in seven languages.
The note made a distinction between the church’s welcoming and blessing of gay persons, which it maintained, and their marriages, which it did not. It argued that such unions are not in God’s will, and that any sacramental approval of them could be mistaken for marriage.
The note immediately delighted conservatives, dismayed LGBT Catholics, and threw a wrench in the debate within the German church, which has been at the forefront of opening dialogue on contentious topics like the church’s teaching on homosexuality.
The Vatican’s stance, according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which calls for greater inclusion of gays in the church, would be ignored, even by some Catholic clergy.
In a quote, he said, “Catholic people accept the holiness of marriage between married same-sex couples and recognize this love as divinely inspired and divinely assisted, thereby meeting the standard to be blessed.”
Gay people must be viewed with dignity and reverence, according to the Vatican, but gay sex is “intrinsically disordered.” Marriage, according to Catholic teaching, is a lifelong union between a man and a woman that is a part of God’s design and is intended to create new life.
The church cannot bless gay unions because they aren’t part of the plan, according to the text.
“The existence of positive elements in such relationships, which are in themselves to be cherished and praised, cannot excuse these relationships and make them valid objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the sense of a marriage that is not ordered according to the Creator’s plan,” the answer said.
It said that God “does not and cannot bless sin: He blesses sinful man in order for him to understand that he is a part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him.”
Francis has advocated offering legal rights for gay couples in same-sex relationships, but only in the civil sphere, not in the church. Those remarks were made during a 2019 interview with Televisa, a Mexican broadcaster, but the Vatican censored them before they were revealed in a documentary last year.
While the documentary omitted the background, Francis was referring to his position as archbishop of Buenos Aires at the time. Argentina’s lawmakers were considering legalizing gay marriage, which the Catholic Church opposes, at the time. Instead, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio advocated for a so-called “code of civil cohabitation” to provide legal rights for gays in peaceful unions.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” Francis told Televisa. They are God’s children.”
“You can’t kick anyone out of a family or make their life miserable for this,” he said, referring to families of gay children. What we need is a civil union law to ensure that they are legally protected.”
The Vatican said in the new document and an unsigned accompanying article that questions had been posed in recent years about whether the church should bless same-sex unions in a sacramental way, particularly after Francis insisted on the need to better accept gays in the church.
It seemed to be a reference to the German church, where some bishops have been challenging the limits on topics like priestly celibacy, abortion, and the church’s openness to gay Catholics after being threatened by influential lay Catholic groups.
Bishop Georg Bätzing, the president of the German bishops’ conference, said in a statement that the new text would be integrated into the German debate, but that the case was far from over.
“There are no clear answers to such questions,” he said, adding that the German church was addressing not only the church’s present moral teaching, but also the creation of doctrine and the current reality of Catholics.
The decision was lauded by Bill Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League, as a decisive, non-negotiable “end of story” declaration by the Vatican.
“Nothing was left on the table by the Vatican. On the League’s website, Donohue wrote, “The door has been slammed shut on the gay agenda,” calling the paper “the most decisive rejection of those efforts ever written.”
The Vatican emphasized the “fundamental and definitive distinction” between gay individuals and gay unions in the paper, emphasizing that “the negative opinion on the blessing between unions of people of the same sex does not mean a judgment on persons.”
It did, however, clarify why such unions cannot be blessed, stating that any union involving sexual intercourse outside of marriage cannot be blessed because it is not in a state of grace, or “ordered to both receive and transmit the good that is proclaimed and granted by the blessing.”
It went on to say that blessing a same-sex relationship could offer the appearance of a sacramental equivalence to marriage. The article said, “This would be incorrect and misleading.”
The paper, according to Esteban Paulon, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Homosexuals, Bisexuals, and Transsexuals, shows that the institutional church will not change despite Francis’ words and gestures of outreach to gays.
“To say that homosexual activity — openly living sexuality — is a sin is to go back 200 years and spread hate speech, which is sadly on the rise in Latin America and Europe,” Paulon said. “Injuries and even deaths result from this, as do policies that encourage discrimination.”
In the Philippines, Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation, gay rights leader Danton Remoto said it wasn’t worth it to battle an old institution. Remoto said, “I keep asking LGBTQIs to only get their civil unions done.” “This church is no longer a source of tension for us.”
Other critics pointed out that the Catholic Book of Blessings provides blessings for anything from new homes and factories to horses, sports activities, seeds before planting, and farm machinery.
The paper, according to Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean survivor of sexual assault who is close to Francis, was out of touch with Francis’ pastoral approach and tone deaf to the needs and rights of LGBT Catholics.
“Catholics will continue to leave if the Church and the CDF do not progress with the world… continually refusing and speaking negatively and not placing goals where they should be,” he warned.
The Vatican released a similar declaration in 2003, claiming that the church’s embrace of gay people “cannot lead in any way to tolerance of homosexual conduct or legal recognition of homosexual unions.”
The Vatican reasoned that doing so would not only condone “deviant acts,” but would also provide an equivalence to marriage, which the church considers to be an irreversible union between man and woman.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice in the United States and a proponent of greater LGBTQ inclusion in the church, expressed relief that the Vatican declaration was not harsher.
“You can bless the people (in a same-sex union), but you can’t bless the contract,” she said she understood the phrase to mean.
“So you should have a ceremony where people are blessed to be their devoted selves,” says the narrator.