The Vatican decreed on Monday that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions because God "cannot bless sin." The Vatican's orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) published a two-page ruling signed by Pope Francis in seven languages in its formal response to the question if Catholic clergy can bless gay unions.
In countries like the United States and Germany, parishes and ministers had been blessing same-sex unions in lieu of marriage for some time that prompted calls for bishops to de facto institutionalize these. Monday's decree puts an end to this debate, which pleased conservatives but immediately disheartened advocates for LGBT Catholics.
Vatican Ends Debate
The new ruling called on Catholic clergy to treat gay people with "respect and sensitivity" but insisted that blessing their unions would "approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God." The note further says that God "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," it read.
The CDF elaborated that the explanation was not intended to discriminate or be unjust but was instead a "reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite."
According to Catholic teaching, God intends marriage to be a lifelong union between a man and woman for the sake of creating new life, the note read. Given that gay unions are not intended to be part of that plan, they cannot be blessed by the church. Blessing a same-sex union could give the impression of a sort of sacramental equivalence to marriage — which "would be erroneous and misleading," the article said.
The debate whether same-sex reunions should be bless started after parishes and ministers in some countries likes the United states and Germany had started blessing same-sex unions in lieu of marriage. In Germany, at least two bishops, including Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, one of the pope's top advisors, have shown support for some kind of "pastoral" blessing.
Conservatives in the 1.3 billion-member Church have expressed alarm over these practices, following which the CDF issued the ruling: "Negative".
Although conservatives immediately cheered the ruling, it disappointed advocates for LGBT Catholics and threw a wrench in the debate within the German church. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for greater acceptance of gays in the church, said that the Vatican position would be ignored including by some Catholic clergy.
"Catholic people recognize the holiness of the love between committed same-sex couples and recognize this love as divinely inspired and divinely supported and thus meets the standard to be blessed," he said in a statement.
Even LGBT activists and celebrities have opposed the CDF's decision. Singer Elton John slammed the Vatican for refusing to bless same-sex marriages while also investing in his biographical drama "Rocketman."
"How can the Vatican refuse to bless gay marriages because they 'are sin,' yet happily make a profit from investing millions in 'Rocketman' — a film which celebrates my finding happiness from my marriage to David?" John asked his followers.
The Long Debate
A Pew Research survey last year showed that majority of Catholics in the United States and Western Europe approved of gay marriage while a majority in Eastern Europe and former Soviet-bloc countries opposed it.
Francis has always opposed gay marriage, but his 2019 comments that "what we have to create is a civil union law" caused a sensation in the Catholic world. The remarks emerged last year in a documentary in which he also said: "Homosexual people have the right to be in a family... they are children of God."
However, the Vatican had to take steps to clarify the comments, saying that they were taken out of context and did not signal a change in Church doctrine on gay people or support for same-sex marriage. On the one hand Francis's words were hailed by admirers as a "major step forward in the church's support for LGBT people", while on the other hand, it angered conservative Catholics who said they "clearly contradict what has been the long-standing teaching of the church."
Monday's ruling may have made the conservatives happy but LGBT community now feels marginalized.