Pope Francis caused widespread controversy and confusion on Monday by appearing to allow priests to bless individuals and couples involved in unchaste same-sex marriages and unrecognized civil marriages, a decision faithful Catholics have said will “produce chaos” in people’s lives “and hurt souls.”
The pope gave priests in the Roman Catholic Church, the world’s largest Christian denomination, “the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples,” as long as this is done “without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage.” The decision came through a statement titled “On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings” (Fiducia Supplicans) signed by the 87-year-old pontiff and issued by the Vatican’s chief doctrinal guardian, the Dicastery (formerly the Congregation) for the Doctrine of the Faith, now led by close Francis ally and fellow Argentine Cardinal Víctor Manuel “Tucho” Fernández. The blessing is not to be a wedding Mass, nor a “liturgical rite or blessing similar to a liturgical rite that can create confusion” that implies the Church has celebrated a wedding or nuptial service.
Yet when a couple in a same-sex relationship approach their church pastor, the priest now has papal authority to offer a blessing on them collectively which “unites intercessory prayer with the invocation of God’s help by those who humbly turn to him,” says the document, “a blessing that descends from God upon those who — recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of his help — do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis “remains firm on the traditional doctrine of the Church about marriage,” the document says.
The media have largely portrayed the document as a triumph of the LGBTQ movement. For example, a Reuters headline declared, “Vatican approves blessings for same-sex couples in landmark ruling.”
“This really is a very bad document,” Fr. Gerald Murray, a priest at the Church of the Holy Family in New York City, told “Washington Watch” guest host and former Congressman Jody Hice on Monday afternoon. “And it’s going to cause immense grief and sorrow in the Catholic Church, not only in the U.S., but throughout the world.”
The declaration purports that it does not change official Roman Catholic doctrine. As Fr. Murray told Hice, “[T]he teaching of the Church cannot change, but the pastors of the Church can act in a way that undermines that teaching, and that is simply what’s going on here.”
Traditionally, the Church has ranked sodomy as one of the four sins that cry out to Heaven for vengeance. The Roman Catholic Church also bars divorced Catholics from being remarried by a priest.
Dissenting Catholics celebrated the papal statement allowing the public blessing of same-sex couples. “The change here is that these blessings are now officially sanctioned by the Vatican,” wrote Jesuit priest James Martin, a leader of New Ways Ministries, a radical ministry intent on normalizing LGBTQ relations inside the Catholic Church, in the liberal America magazine. “Today, with some limitations, I can perform a public blessing of a same-sex couple. Yesterday, I could not.”
But traditional Catholics warned the new formula makes the Roman Catholic Church seem to bless the underlying sexual activity of the couple, which receives a public blessing despite living in unrepentant sin.
“The practical consequences of this decision are obvious to anyone with eyes,” said Brian Burch, president of CatholicVote.org, in an email sent to The Washington Stand. “LGBT activists have never been simply interested in a ‘blessing’ as individuals. That has always been available to everyone. … [T]he LGBT movement wants the Church to endorse its goals, including the condoning of same-sex lifestyles, unions, and even sexual acts as authentic expressions of human love.”
Priests who want to remain faithful to the traditional, biblical teaching on sodomy and the lifelong nature of marriage now find themselves in a “quandary and dilemma,” said Fr. Murray. “The document may say that this doesn’t legitimize the relationship, but I don’t know how anybody can say that.” He went on to argue that Pope Francis’s new declaration “go[es] along with the agenda of the sexual revolution of the 60s.” Instead of uniting married people and procreating more members of the human race, the Sexual Revolution teaches that “sex is about pleasure, and you do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt people, everybody agrees to it, then you’re fine. And the Catholic Church says, absolutely not. God’s law is good, pure and holy, and it’s binding on all mankind. You can’t exempt yourself from the law of God simply because you want to do something against it.”
The issue of formally blessing same-sex unions, which most recently became an issue at the Synod on Synodality, received a negative response from the pontiff in 2021. Answering a number of cardinals, Pope Francis said priests cannot give same-sex couples formal liturgical blessings, which the Church would call “sacramentals.” But the new declaration asks priests “to perform blessings spontaneously that are not found in the Book of Blessings.”
This declaration follows other actions traditional Catholics say create confusion among the faithful. In November, Pope Francis wrote, “Under certain conditions, an adult transgender person — even after undergoing hormone treatment and sex-reassignment surgery — may be admitted to the function of serving as a godparent,” the adult charged with nurturing and developing a young child’s faith. Yet in March, in an unofficial statement to an Argentine median outlet, the pope declared, “Gender ideology, today, is one of the most dangerous ideological colonizations.”
The progressive pope has infuriated faithful Catholics from the beginning of his pontificate, asking “Who am I to judge?” same-sex couples, unceremoniously replacing conservative prelates with liberal bishops, and renewing a deal to recognize the state communist-led “Catholic” church of China.
“Quite frankly, no pope in history has ever suggested that this is the way the Church should act,” Fr. Murray told Hice. “And I think precisely because it does undermine the Catholic moral teaching on sexuality that is such a dangerous innovation.”
Conservative Catholics agree, in an environment of chaos and confusion, Christians must know and apply the scriptural teachings in their own lives. “If there’s anything we need to do is have more Bible study and more reading of the Scriptures in a prayerful and thoughtful way, and then taking the questions of the day and trying to find out what has God revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures about those questions,” said Fr. Murray.
“This innovation has to be resisted,” said Fr. Murray, “because it’s going to produce chaos in so many lives and hurt souls.”
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.
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