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Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican in April. Alamy Stock Photo
Catholic Church

Pope Francis signals openness to blessing same-sex unions in response to conservative cardinals

Five conservative cardinals had challenged Pope Francis to affirm Church teaching on gay people, women’s ordination, the authority of the pope and other issues.

POPE FRANCIS HAS suggested there could be ways to bless same-sex unions, responding to five conservative cardinals who challenged him to affirm Church teaching on homosexuality ahead of a big meeting where LGBT+ Catholics are on the agenda.

The Vatican today published a letter Pope Francis wrote to the cardinals on 11 July after receiving a list of five questions, or “dubia”, from them a day earlier.

It suggests such blessings could be studied if they did not confuse the blessing with sacramental marriage.

The Vatican holds that marriage is an indissoluble union between man and woman and has long opposed gay marriage, but even Francis has voiced support for civil laws extending legal benefits to same-sex spouses, and Catholic priests in parts of Europe have been blessing same-sex unions without Vatican censure.

Francis’s response to the cardinals marks a reversal from the Vatican’s current official position.

In an explanatory note in 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the Church could not bless gay unions because “God cannot bless sin”.

The New Ways Ministry advocacy group said the letter “significantly advances” efforts to make LGBT+ Catholics welcomed in the Church and “one big straw towards breaking the camel’s back” in their marginalisation.

In his new letter, Francis reiterated that matrimony is a union between a man and a woman, but responding to the cardinals’ question about homosexual unions and blessings, he said “pastoral charity” requires patience and understanding and that priests cannot become judges “who only deny, reject and exclude”.

“For this reason, 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,” he wrote.

“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 there are situations that are objectively “not morally acceptable”, but the same “pastoral charity” requires that people be treated as sinners who might not be fully at fault for their situations.

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 “because the life of the Church runs on channels beyond norms”.

The five cardinals, conservative prelates from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, had challenged Francis to affirm Church teaching on gay people, women’s ordination, the authority of the pope and other issues.

They published the material two days before the start of a major three-week synod at the Vatican at which LGBT+ Catholics and their place in the Church are on the agenda.

The signatories were some of Francis’s most vocal critics, all of them retired and of the more doctrinaire generation of cardinals appointed by St John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI.

They were Walter Brandmueller of Germany, a former Vatican historian; Raymond Burke of the US, whom Francis axed as head of the Vatican supreme court; Juan Sandoval of Mexico, the retired archbishop of Guadalajara; Robert Sarah of Guinea, the retired head of the Vatican’s liturgy office; and Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong.

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Press Association