In mid-December, the Vatican authorized the blessing of couples “in an irregular situation” for the Church, including LGBT+ couples. A “strong” gesture of recognition, believe some of them, interviewed by franceinfo. But they fear arbitrary application, likely to rekindle the trauma of marriage for all.
“I always dreamed of getting married in a white dress in Church.” The wish of Agathe, a young transgender Catholic aged 26, seemed to her for a long time “inaccessible”because of “the complicated relationship between the Catholic Church and trans people”. If the Vatican does not officially recognize gender transitions, it has nevertheless taken a step towards LGBT+ couples, a month after opening baptism to transgender people.
In a document published on December 18 and approved by Pope Francis, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, a sort of Vatican ministry, authorizes the blessing of couples “in an irregular situation” in the eyes of the Church, including remarried couples and LGBT+ couples. In the Catholic religion, this blessing takes the form of a “short prayer, often accompanied by a gesture, usually a sign of the cross, by which one invokes God Father, Son and Holy Spirit”details the glossary of the Conference of Bishops of France.
A “recognition” welcomed with “joy”
“It’s a gesture that can be given quite widely, which is done to support people”but which is distinguished from sacraments such as baptism or marriage, notes Céline Béraud, sociologist, research director at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) and specialist in issues of gender and sexuality in Catholicism. “This text tries to welcome LGBT+ couples as much as possible with a strong gestureshe assures. This is the first time that something positive has been associated with them in a Church text.. Symbolically, it is a recognition of their state of life (…) which probably does good to people who have suffered ecclesial homophobia for a long time.”
The announcement is actually judged “positive” by Agathe, who is considering taking the plunge with her partner once their relationship is more advanced. “Even if in itself, it is not a marriage or an acceptance of homosexuality by Christian morality, it is still a voice of the Church which blesses a couplealso reacts Edouard, 36 years old. This means that there is a divine echo that comes to accompany the union, and that is very strong.” The thirty-year-old says he “welcomed with joy” the news from the Vatican, as he has plans for a civil marriage with his partner of 29 years, Alexander.
“I also perceive this announcement as a form of reparation, after the damage that certain words of the Church may have had in LGBTQIA communities.”
— Edouard, homosexual Catholic
“I who have long felt illegitimate in the eyes of God, that a man of the Church agreed to bless me, that comforted me”, adds Guillaume, 35, who was blessed during the summer with his partner, Luca, 50, on the eve of their civil marriage. A ceremony performed “in small groups“while the Vatican did not yet authorize this act.
The formalization of an existing practice
Like Guillaume and Luca, couples seen as “irregular” by the Church could already, in fact, “obtain, in a discreet way, a blessing” with certain volunteer priests and deacons, reports Céline Béraud. “There are plenty of people who love each other and who don’t have the right to marry; and there are plenty of people who are married, but who don’t really love each other. For me, it’s love who goes first”justifies Jean-Paul*, priest in the west of France, who has blessed so many LGBT+ couples that he no longer counts them.
For these “LGBT friendly” prieststhe Roman announcement was greeted with relief. “I’m a little more serene: at least it won’t be a witch hunt”cowardly Emmanuel*, priest in a parish in the Paris region who blessed a gay couple in 2023 but feared “let it be known”. However, we should not imagine that the announcement will lead to an influx of requests from LGBT+ couples. “People who want a blessing are very religious, they already have contact with priests. They will obtain it as they have already obtained it for years”believes Céline Béraud.
A very framed blessing
For many, however, the announcement remains bittersweet. In the Vatican text, “LGBT+ people are always reduced to the status of fishermen, It’s really violent.” regrets Edouard, who would have liked the Church to go “further away”. Because opening the blessing to LGBT+ couples does not reflect a normalization, for Catholicism, of homosexuality, bisexuality or transidentity. “This is the classic doctrine of the Church: we condemn acts but we welcome people”notes Céline Béraud. “I think that society is not capable of accepting more than that today, and that it is already enormous”estimates Guillaume.
“When I think of the love that Alexandre and I have for each other, of the sweetness that accompanies our relationship, I don’t have the impression that we are doing anything wrong.” — Edouard, homosexual Catholic
In fact, inequalities compared to heterosexual couples persist. “The text does not return to the doctrine of Catholic marriage, perceived as a sacrament which unites a man and a woman in an indissoluble manner”, recalls Céline Béraud. In this context, the blessing that can be granted to LGBT+ couples is in theory “very restrictive” : She “must be dissociated from the moment of civil union and in no way resemble Catholic marriage, whether in actions, words or clothing worn”explains the sociologist.
Obstacles and reluctance
Several religious leaders have also hastened to limit the Vatican’s message. The bishops of western France have thus advocated the blessing of individuals and not of couples, in order to avoid any “scandal” Or a “confusion” with marriage. The Conference of Bishops of France has called for “a broad and unconditional welcome” people, but again without mentioning couples. African bishops have also warned that they will not bless couples because it “would be in direct contradiction with the cultural ethos of the communities Africans”reports The cross.
These reluctances, shared by some of the faithful, are sometimes accompanied by clearly homophobic words. “VSEveryone comments to say horrible things about homosexuals, what they are entitled to or not, that their relationships are unnatural, against the will of God…”regrets Emmanuel, who fears making those first concerned relive the trauma of marriage for all.
“We talk about people, about Christians, and we treat them as if they don’t exist, as an abstraction.” — Emmanuel*, Catholic priest
Will Agathe have to give up her dreams of a white dress? “No one will go and check how these blessings are made”, assures Céline Béraud. It is therefore a safe bet that, as today, a multitude of forms of blessings will coexist, depending on the wishes of the couple and the person chosen to practice them – from a brief time of prayer to a celebration in company loved ones getting closer to a wedding.
This arbitrary nature does not reassure the LGBT+ believers interviewed. “As these blessings are not uniform across the territory, I am afraid that the options of place and date” of this ceremony “be limited”confides Agathe, who sees this moment as a religious union. “What approach will be proposed to couples who want this blessing? What gestures, what words will be spoken on this occasion?”also worries Edouard, who fears that a blessing given by a priest or deacon with little training in LGBT+ issues is likely to “revive wounds”. And the thirty-year-old concludes: “Much still remains to be done.”
* First names have been changed.
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