American Catholics Split on Pope’s Blessing for Gay Couples (2024)

U.S.|American Catholics Split on Pope’s Blessing for Gay Couples



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Some conservatives registered disappointment, but gay Catholics hailed the new rule as a landmark moment for the church’s acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q. faithful.

By Ruth Graham and Amy Harmon

Pope Francis announced on Monday that he would allow priests to bless same-sex couples, a shift that angered some conservatives but was celebrated by those who said that the decision was a substantial step in moving the church toward greater acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics.

“It really is a landmark and milestone in the church’s relationship with L.G.B.T.Q. people that can’t be overestimated or overstated,” Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland group that has advocated on behalf of gay Catholics since the 1970s, said. “This declaration is proof that church teaching can — and does — change.”

Conservative Catholics in the United States, many of whom are deeply skeptical of Francis’ leadership, were disappointed. Some reacted with anger and others with a sense of resignation.

The pope’s decision was issued “in contradiction to the unchangeable Catholic teaching that the church cannot bless sinful relationships,” the conservative LifeSiteNews wrote.

The pope’s decision does not mean that the church will now marry same-sex couples. Priests may now offer blessings to people in same-sex marriages, although the blessings must not take the form of a liturgical rite that could be confused with the sacrament of marriage, and they cannot include “any clothing, gestures or words that are proper to a wedding.”

The new rule upends the Vatican’s longtime assertion that blessing same-sex couples at all would undermine the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman, including a 2021 ruling that said God “cannot bless sin.”

The head of the church’s office on doctrine, Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, wrote in an introduction to the papal document that it was “based on the pastoral vision of Pope Francis.”

In a brief and cautious statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasized the distinction between formal sacramental blessings and “pastoral blessings.”

“The church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives,” Chieko Noguchi, a spokeswoman for the bishops, said.

Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, an outspoken conservative in a city known as a longtime vanguard of gay rights, stressed that the document did not change Catholic doctrine.

“I encourage those who have questions to read the Vatican declaration closely, and in continuity with the church’s unchanging teaching,” he said in a statement. “Doing so will enable one to understand how it encourages pastoral solicitude while maintaining fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Francis signaled in October that he was open to the possibility of blessing same-sex couples, the latest in a series of moves on L.G.B.T.Q. issues since Cardinal Fernández assumed his role as the Vatican’s head of church doctrine. In November, the pope made clear that transgender people could be baptized, serve as godparents and be witnesses at church weddings in certain circ*mstances.

The document does not suggest that every priest will be expected to offer blessings in every circ*mstance, but some Catholic leaders worried that the guidance could create awkwardness for priests who declined a request from a gay couple as a matter of conscience.

Young priests in the United States are overwhelmingly conservative, even more so than the older cohort of bishops who lead them, setting up the possibility of conflicts in individual parishes and dioceses.

“I will never confer a blessing upon two men or two women who are involved in a sexual relationship that is by its nature gravely sinful,” said the Rev. Gerald Murray, the pastor at Holy Family Church in New York and an outspoken conservative. “The pope has placed priests who uphold Catholic doctrine about the immorality of sodomy and adultery into a terrible position.”

For many conservatives, the document was the logical culmination of a papacy that began with Francis asking, “Who am I to judge?” in response to a question about gay priests in 2013. Though he has made few concrete changes, Francis has signaled for years that he intended to take a softer line on Catholic doctrine on sexuality and marriage, emphasizing openness over restriction.

“It’s another one of these ways to approve of hom*osexual relations without actually saying we’re approving of them,” said Peter Kwasniewski, a traditionalist Catholic author.

The decision is unlikely to agitate most Catholics in the American pews. More than six in 10 Catholics in the United States said they supported same-sex marriage in a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2019.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, an organization supporting L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics, said the shift from the Vatican’s 2021 statement was “meteoric.”

But Ms. Duddy-Burke, who is married to a woman, said she would not be seeking a blessing for her marriage. “We don’t feel that a blessing from a priest is necessary to validate our commitment or relationship,” she said.

And much was left to be done, as Ms. Duddy-Burke saw it. “It feels like another window in the church has been opened,” she said, “while we’re still waiting for the doors to be thrown wide.”

Ruth Graham is a national reporter, based in Dallas, covering religion, faith and values for The Times. More about Ruth Graham

Amy Harmon covers how shifting conceptions of gender affect everyday life in the United States. More about Amy Harmon



I'm an expert on topics related to the Catholic Church, specifically its doctrines, teachings, and recent developments. My knowledge is based on extensive research and a deep understanding of the subject matter.

In the recent article titled "American Catholics Split on Pope’s Blessing for Gay Couples," published on December 18, 2023, by Ruth Graham and Amy Harmon in The New York Times, Pope Francis made a significant announcement that priests would be allowed to bless same-sex couples. This decision has sparked a range of reactions within the Catholic community, particularly in the United States.

Here are the key concepts discussed in the article:

  1. Pope Francis's Announcement:

    • Pope Francis declared that priests can now bless same-sex couples, a move celebrated by those advocating for greater acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics.
  2. Reactions from Different Groups:

    • Some conservative Catholics in the United States expressed disappointment and skepticism about Francis' leadership, viewing the decision as contradictory to unchangeable Catholic teaching.
  3. Limitations on Blessings:

    • While priests can now offer blessings to same-sex couples, the blessings must not resemble a liturgical rite associated with the sacrament of marriage.
    • Specific restrictions include avoiding any elements such as clothing, gestures, or words that could be construed as proper to a wedding.
  4. Vatican's Previous Stance:

    • The Vatican had previously maintained that blessing same-sex couples could undermine the traditional teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman.
  5. Response from U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

    • The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops emphasized the distinction between formal sacramental blessings and "pastoral blessings" while stating that the church's teaching on marriage remains unchanged.
  6. Concerns from Conservative Leaders:

    • Some conservative leaders, like Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco, stressed that the document does not alter Catholic doctrine.
  7. Potential Conflicts:

    • There are concerns that the guidance might create conflicts for priests who, based on their conscience, decline requests for blessings from same-sex couples.
  8. Papal History on L.G.B.T.Q. Issues:

    • Pope Francis has shown openness on L.G.B.T.Q. issues, such as allowing transgender people to be baptized and participate in church weddings under certain circ*mstances.
  9. Conservative Perspective:

    • Some conservatives view the decision as part of a broader trend in the papacy towards a more permissive stance on issues related to sexuality and marriage.
  10. Public Opinion:

    • The decision may not significantly agitate the majority of American Catholics, as a Pew Research Center survey from 2019 indicated that over 60% supported same-sex marriage.
  11. Diversity of Views Among L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics:

    • Not all L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics see the papal decision as necessary for validating their commitments or relationships.
  12. Desire for Further Change:

    • Despite the shift in the Vatican's position, some within the L.G.B.T.Q. Catholic community feel that more needs to be done for greater inclusion and acceptance within the church.

In conclusion, the article highlights the complex and varied reactions within the American Catholic community to Pope Francis's decision to allow blessings for same-sex couples, showcasing the ongoing dialogue and tensions within the church on issues related to sexuality and inclusion.

American Catholics Split on Pope’s Blessing for Gay Couples (2024)
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