Vatican rules out blessings for same-sex relationships, despite calls for liberalization

ROME – The Vatican on Monday banned blessings on same-sex relationships, contradicting calls for the practice of progressive bishops in Germany and elsewhere, and setting a cap on the pontificate’s conciliatory approach to homosexuals. of Pope Francis.

The Vatican’s doctrinal office, in a document personally approved by Pope Francis, said that clergy were not allowed to pronounce blessings on any sexual relationship outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

The document reaffirms Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality when several liberal bishops, including the director of the conference of German Catholic bishops, asked to bless same-sex couples in committed relationships. Priests in Germany have extensively blessed these couples for years, as have clergy in other parts of Northern Europe.

Such blessings are wrong, the Vatican said Monday, because they would appear to “endorse and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordained to God’s revealed plans,” adding that God “does not and cannot. do it”. bless sin. “

The German bishops have tangled with the Vatican on other issues, including the question of giving Communion to Lutherans, and they are unlikely to back down on their stance on blessing gay unions. German bishops and lay Catholics are currently involved in a national synod that is considering changes in aspects of church life, including the possibility of female clergy and teaching about sexuality.

A move by German bishops to approve same-sex marriage blessings would exacerbate tensions with more conservative parts of the church, including in Africa, and conservative US bishops have criticized what they see as an overly progressive deviation. of the traditional. teachings, with the Archbishop of Denver warning in 2019 that German bishops are moving toward a schism.

Pope Francis has taken a more liberal approach than his predecessors on some issues of marriage and sexuality, including divorce and homosexuality. In one of the most famous statements of his pontificate, he responded to a question about gay clergy in 2013: “Who am I to judge?” During his 2015 visit to the United States, he met privately with a gay couple in Washington, DC.

In comments published last year, the Pope expressed his support for civil unions between people of the same sex, saying that homosexual couples “have the right to be legally covered,” a position he had held as archbishop of Buenos Aires.

But the Pope has also written that “there is absolutely no reason to consider homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family.”

The Vatican document on Monday recognized “the presence in such relationships of positive elements, which in themselves should be valued and appreciated,” but said that such elements “cannot justify these relationships and turn them into legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since that the positive elements exist within the context of an unordered union to the Creator’s plan. “

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official teaching manual, states that “homosexual acts are inherently disorderly”, the inclination to perform them is “objectively disorderly” and “under no circumstances can they be approved.” But the catechism also affirms that homosexual people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Any sign of unfair discrimination in their relationship should be avoided. “

Monday’s reaffirmation of traditional teaching is likely to disappoint progressive Catholics who hope for greater change and encourage conservatives, as was the Pope’s decision last February not to facilitate the priestly ordination of married men.

“It’s not surprising that it continues to be disappointing,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT Catholics. “However, this decision is powerless because it will not stop the Catholic people in the banks, nor many Catholic leaders, who are eager for such blessings to happen.”

The issue of homosexuality has rocked other Christian denominations, fostering division with the worldwide Anglican Communion between the liberal churches in Europe and North America and the more conservative churches in Africa. Last year, the United Methodist Church agreed in principle to split over disagreements over same-sex marriage and gay clergy, although a meeting to approve the measure was delayed due to the pandemic.

Write to Francis X. Rocca at [email protected]

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