ROME—For gay Catholics who had hoped Pope Francis’ recent comments that “homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” would soften the longstanding bias against them, the latest edict from the Vatican will deal a heavy blow. On Monday, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which deals in dogma, released a long-awaited response to a “dubium” or question presented for study. In it, they said priests cannot bless same-sex marriages because they “cannot bless sin.”
The statement, which was signed by the prefect and secretary of the congregation and signed off by Pope Francis, started simply:
TO THE QUESTION PROPOSED: Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?
It went on to explain that increasingly priests have felt enabled to bless same-sex unions. “In some ecclesial contexts, plans and proposals for blessings of unions of persons of the same sex are being advanced,” the authors write, without referring implicitly to Francis’ recent call for a “same sex union law.”
The Catholic church only recognizes marriage between heterosexual couples who have the intention to bear children. “For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” the statement decrees. “The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.”
Then, to be undeniably clear, the statement goes on: “Furthermore, since blessings on persons are in relationship with the sacraments, the blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit. This is because they would constitute a certain imitation or analogue of the nuptial blessing invoked on the man and woman united in the sacrament of Matrimony, while in fact ‘there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to carry out God’s will in their lives.’”
In October, Francis—who once graced the cover of Advocate magazine—caused a stir when he was quoted in a documentary that premiered at the Rome Film Festival saying he believed gay couples should enjoy legal protections. At that time, the Vatican Secretary of State intervened, issuing talking points to its ambassadors about what the pope “really meant” so as not to imply a change in doctrine. They said he was simply reiterating a comment he made before he was pope, when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires and that in fact, as pope, he really did oppose same-sex marriage.
In 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith had resoundingly prohibited the use of a sacramental blessing on any union that did not constitute a man and a woman, saying that the church’s support or acceptance of gay couples “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”
Monday’s statement upholds the 2003 decree. “We are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit,” the statement says in conclusion and quoting a previous document. “But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. He in fact takes us as we are, but never leaves us as we are.”