Vatican defends Pope Francis allowing blessings for same-sex couples

Pope Francis leading Wednesday General Audience in Paul VI Audience Hall in Vatican City on Jan. 3.

By Jacob Knutson

The Vatican on Thursday defended Pope Francis’ recent decision to allow priests to bless same-sex couples, after bishops around the world condemned the doctrine.

Why it matters: The dissent underscored a wider divide between traditionalist and more conservative Catholic leaders on Francis’ goals for the institution and its future membership.

  • Even though the new policy both did not condone same-sex marriages and condemns such marital arrangements as “irregular situations,” some bishops in Europe, Africa and other parts of the world almost immediately vowed to not implement it, AP reports.

Driving the news: The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church department in charge of Catholic doctrine, in a statement Thursday said dissent to the policy reflected a “need for a more extended period of pastoral reflection.”

  • It also noted that the policy may be a delicate subject in countries that strictly outlaw homosexuality.
  • But such countries are few, per the department, adding that church leaders under governments with those laws have a wider responsibility to defend human dignity.

However, it said dissent to the new policy cannot be described as doctrinal opposition, as the policy reaffirms the church’s long-standing beliefs around marriage and sexuality.

  • The policy and the same-sex blessings it allows should not be considered “heretical, contrary to the Tradition of the Church or blasphemous,” the department said.
  • It said bishops can adopt the blessings with “prudence and attention to the ecclesial context and to the local culture.” But they cannot totally ban priests from giving the blessing.

Details: The new policy stresses that blessings for same-sex couples don’t represent an approval of same-sex marriages or unions, must not be given at the same time as a civil union and cannot resemble weddings in any way.

  • The strongest voices among the dissenting bishops criticized the policy as being contradictory and an affront on the churches’ beliefs on the sacrament of marriage and sexuality.
  • Other bishops downplayed the novelty of Francis’ new policy, saying it merely restates the Vatican’s traditional doctrines around marriage, according to AP.

The big picture: Making the church more welcoming LGBTQ+ people has also been a part of Francis’ agenda. He’s also emphasized social justice issues like the environmental and protections for the poor.

However, he has done so while at the same time having to uphold the church’s historical views.

  • The balancing act has in part produced a doctrine that stresses that gay people be treated with dignity and respect. At the same time, it denounces gay sex as being “intrinsically disordered.”

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