Pope Francis, who made headlines in the first months of his papacy by responding, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests, has now signed off on a Vatican decree that priests cannot bless same-sex unions since God “cannot bless sin.”

by Christopher White

The decree, issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on March 15, states, “It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage.”

For some, the new decree may result in whiplash, coming less than five months after the pope made headlines in a documentary film for once more affirming his support of civil union laws for same-sex couples.

A file photo shows a same-sex couple exchanging rings during a ceremony in Salt Lake City. (CNS/Reuters/Jim Urquhar)

For others, it’s further affirmation of the church’s teaching that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” But for all, it’s another tricky move in Francis’ tightrope walk of upholding church teaching, while also trying to extend a warmer welcome to LGBTQ persons.

A priest can bless a housean automobile and a pet; the 400-page Book of Blessings, which is both approved by the Vatican and local bishops’ conferences, even includes prayers for fishing gear, boats and athletic fields.

Among the objects and persons that can be blessed by priests are gay individuals — but with a caveat.

According to the new decree, a priest can bless a person who happens to be gay, but they must “manifest the will to live in fidelity to the revealed plans of God as proposed by Church teaching.” The same conditions apply to “any union that involves sexual activity outside of marriage.”

“This is a version of the old tried-and-true ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’ mentality that shows up not only in Roman Catholicism but in other Christian denominations,” said Patrick Hornbeck, professor of theology at Fordham University. 

Pope Francis has been viewed with cautious optimism by LGBTQ groups because of remarks like his statement, widely published in 2020, that homosexuals are “part of the family” and that same-sex and other nontraditional couples need a “civil union law.”

But rights advocates also noted that the pope’s remarks didn’t promise a change within the church, saying the comment seemed to reflect his own opinions, rather than a shift in Catholic doctrine.

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