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The Catholic Church Is Blessing Same-Sex Unions? Let’s Check.

December 18, 2023

On December 18, many of us woke up to headlines such as “Pope Francis Allows Priests to Bless Same-Sex Couples” and “Pope Francis Authorizes Blessings for Same-Sex Couples.”

For most people, what did those headlines spell? They spelled CONFIRMATION.

From one group came confirmation that said drily, “Pope Francis always was a closet progressive. Makes sense.” Or perhaps it was further confirmation of a coming apostasy. Another group felt relief: “Finally. The Catholics are getting with the program.” For them, it was confirmation that, just as “the arc of the universe bends toward justice,”[1] so Christian groups, one by one, will inevitably come to full affirmation of LGBTQ+ views of truth and morality. News outlets are giddily heralding this as a “radical shift in policy.” But is it?

I want to invite you deeper. Let’s look into the story behind the headlines. If you keep an open mind, I believe you will see less confirmation and more clarification. It was a story worthy of my time to research, and I believe of yours to hear. Without careful thought, our mental wheels can strip to baldness without our knowing until we find ourselves hydroplaning offroad because of some greasy headline.

Clarification of a Previous Statement

First, there was a dubium. Then a Responsum. Thirdly, on December 18, 2023, came a Declaration.

A dubium means that someone submitted to the Roman Catholic Church a request for clarity about some church matter. In this case, the dubium came because Catholics were inquiring about whether priests could bless same-sex unions (much like many Mainline Protestant churches have done). To reply to the dubium, in 2021, the Church issued a Responsum, explaining that, no, the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions. At the same time, the Responsum made it clear that this should not be taken to mean that priests can’t bless individuals who have homosexual inclinations—but rather that they can’t bless homosexual unions.


“The Responsum made it clear that this should not be taken to mean that priests can’t bless individuals who have homosexual inclinations—but rather that they can’t bless homosexual unions.”


Although the Responsum seemed clear enough, not every Catholic leader appreciated the clarification. Ambiguity can be liberating. Add to this that Catholicism’s globality often works against its doctrinal uniformity. Despite the Responsum, priests in parts of the Western world continued to push for blessing homosexual unions, even as pockets of the global South pushed surprisingly harsh anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

Hence, the need for further clarification.

“Declaration on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings”

In terms of Catholic officialness, a papal “Declaration” goes beyond a Responsum. Here is why this document rises to the level of Declaration. Its introduction explains that the Declaration “offers a real development from what has been said about blessings in the Magisterium and the official texts.” In other words, this Declaration offers clarification into what a priestly blessing is.

In reading the Declaration, I noticed that, although there is much said about blessings, one conviction that remains unchanged is that marriage is the “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children.”

So, is this one of those deceptive divides between the pastoral and the doctrinal—where officially Catholics teach historic marriage, but pastorally they are free to bless same-sex marriages?


“One conviction that remains unchanged is that marriage is the ‘exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children.'”


Actually, the Declaration clearly and persistently rejects the idea of blessing same-sex unions/marriages. “The Church’s doctrine on this point remains firm,” states the Declaration.[2] What is advocated for is blessing people, regardless of their present ethical situation. Throughout the document, great care is taken to distinguish between a spontaneous blessing given by a priest going about their daily interactions and an official, ritual blessing given of a marriage.

What Is a Catholic Blessing?

The Declaration clarifies what it means by a “blessing.” Throughout the Bible, there are blessings that descend from God to people, such as Numbers 6:24-26 (NIV): “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you . . . .” There are also blessings that ascend from people to God, such as Psalm 103:1 (ESV): “Bless the Lord, O my soul . . . .” Moreover, we find people blessing people, such as Jacob blessing his sons in Genesis 49.

Within the Catholic Church, a priestly blessing is a way of communicating God’s love in such a way that, though it takes the form of people blessing people, it is ultimately a channel through which God’s message of blessings descends to people through the Church:

“In his mystery of love, through Christ, God communicates to his Church the power to bless. Granted by God to human beings and bestowed by them on their neighbors, the blessing is transformed into inclusion, solidarity, and peacemaking. It is a positive message of comfort, care, and encouragement. The blessing expresses God’s merciful embrace and the Church’s motherhood, which invites the faithful to have the same feelings as God toward their brothers and sisters.”[3]

According to the Declaration, when someone spontaneously approaches a priest asking for a blessing, it is neither the time nor place to do a moral audit of the person. The person is showing spiritual neediness, something which ought not to be discouraged through ethical investigation. This distinction between official rituals and day-to-day interaction frees the priest up for spontaneous and merciful pastoral interaction.


“When someone spontaneously approaches a priest asking for a blessing, it is neither the time nor place to do a moral audit of the person.”


A crucial distinction made throughout the Declaration is between blessings and sacraments. A blessing, under the category of “sacramentals,” is not the same as a sacrament. According to the Responsum mentioned above, “sacramentals do not confer the grace of the Holy Spirit in the way that the sacraments do, but by the Church’s prayer, they prepare us to receive grace and dispose us to cooperate with it.”[4] By contrast, when dealing with sacraments, there are ethical and church-based prerequisites that need to be in place. For example, only baptized Catholics can receive Communion. What’s being advocated for in this document are “blessings offered without preconditions.”[5]

An Underlying Concern

The underlying concern here is that the Catholic Church not turn away a spiritually hungry person who reaches out to a priest—even as the priest also takes care not to blur lines of right and wrong. There is a world of difference between blessing a spiritually thirsty sinner with a prayer of mercy and blessing the person’s sin.


“The underlying concern here is that the Catholic Church not turn away a spiritually hungry person who reaches out to a priest—even as the priest also takes care not to blur lines of right and wrong.”


In thinking through the story, I reached out to a Catholic professor friend of mine who is neither a glowing fan of Pope Francis nor an excessive critic. He recognizes that the current Pope has his struggles but that he is also always trying to thread the needle between welcoming sinners and preaching the need for conversion. I see in this document a balancing of both concerns, and I see a resonance with my own desire to embody grace and truth in my interactions.

All that to say . . .

When a salacious rumor confirms our suspicions about somebody, it might feel like the person is finally getting caught. Yet we need to consider carefully our steps. You don’t want it to be you who gets caught by the clickbait.


[1] A paraphrase of a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.

[2] Victor Manuel Card. “Declaration: Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings” December 18, 2023, https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/12/18/0901/01963.html.

[3] Victor Manuel Card. “Declaration: Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings” December 18, 2023, https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/12/18/0901/01963.html.

[4] Luis F. Card, “Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex, 15.03.2021,” March 15, 2021, https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2021/03/15/210315b.html.

[5] Victor Manuel Card. “Declaration: Fiducia Supplicans: On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings” December 18, 2023, https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/it/bollettino/pubblico/2023/12/18/0901/01963.html.

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