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Michael J. O’LoughlinDecember 19, 2023
A same-sex couple is pictured in a file photo exchanging rings during a ceremony in Salt Lake City. (CNS photo/Jim Urquhar, Reuters)

Reactions to the Vatican’s declaration allowing priests to bless same-sex couples and other Catholics living in “irregular” situations range from tepid acknowledgment to enthusiastic embrace to outright condemnation. Some Catholics see the move as a step forward for L.G.B.T. people in the church while others are worried about the possibility of schism.

Greg Krajewski, a gay, married Catholic living in Chicago, said when he and his husband married, they did not approach a priest for a blessing because they did not want to put anyone in an awkward spot.

But now that priests are allowed to bless same-sex couples, he said they will seek one, “in the most casual way possible.”

“This is the first time that the Vatican has come out in a real way and said, we want you here. Your pursuit of God, your pursuit of the goodness that comes from being in the Catholic Church is a good thing,” Mr. Krajewski, 34, told America. He added that he and his husband would like to receive a blessing because they share a desire to grow closer to Christ and see a blessing as a tangible tool in that journey.

“That desire to reach out to God, to ask him to be with us, I think that matters,” he said.

Mr. Krajewski said he was especially appreciative of the document because it showed that Pope Francis and other church leaders were listening to L.G.B.T. Catholics.

On Monday, the Vatican released “Fiducia Supplicans,” a document that gives priests permission to bless same-sex couples, albeit with several stipulations attached. The blessings must be spontaneous, rather than deriving from a prepared rite, and cannot be attached to a civil wedding ceremony. Further, they must not give the impression that they are akin to a wedding blessing, which the church still reserves for a relationship between one man and one woman.

Still, the document lays out a positive case for allowing priests to offer such blessings.

“Ultimately, a blessing offers people a means to increase their trust in God,” says the document. “The request for a blessing, thus, expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy, and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live. It is a seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered.”

The Rev. Satish Joseph ministers to L.G.B.T. Catholics in Dayton, Ohio. He told America that he welcomed the news of the declaration because being able to offer a blessing to same-sex couples is a pastoral tool that he hopes makes the church feel more welcoming.

L.G.B.T. people, he said, often “run away from the church because they already feel that they are not going to be accepted and in some cases, even treated badly.” Being able to offer a blessing to same-sex couples, he said, “can make young people, or anybody who's discerning their orientation, feel that the church is not completely rejecting them.”

“The church should be the place where they find comfort, where they find hope, where they find life,” Father Joseph said. “And now hopefully this blessing can help us to not be primarily seen as an institution of rejection.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a brief statement on Monday, acknowledging the declaration but focusing mostly on its assertion that same-sex couples remain ineligible for liturgical blessings and reiterating the church’s position on marriage.

“The Declaration issued today by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) articulated a distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings, and pastoral blessings, which may be given to persons who desire God’s loving grace in their lives,” reads the U.S.C.C.B. statement. “The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.”

Groups that work to promote greater L.G.B.T. inclusion in the church reacted joyfully to the news.

“We encourage pastors around the country, and across the globe, to take advantage of this new permission to bestow blessings on same-sex couples who ask for this sign of affirmation,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, said. “It will help many feel more supported by our church.”

Calling the document “an early Christmas gift,” Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement, “It cannot be overstated how significant the Vatican’s new declaration is. Approving blessings for same-gender couples is certainly monumental.”

Bishops across the United States greeted the news in different ways.

A statement from Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, called the declaration “a step forward, and in keeping not only with Pope Francis’s desire to accompany people pastorally but Jesus’s desire to be present to all people who desire grace and support.”

The cardinal continued, “Here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, we welcome this declaration, which will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God.”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, one of the U.S. hierarchy’s most vocal supporters of the church’s teaching on marriage, was less enthusiastic.

“I encourage those who have questions to read the Vatican declaration closely, and in continuity with the Church’s unchanging teaching. Doing so will enable one to understand how it encourages pastoral solicitude while maintaining fidelity to the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said in a statement.

The bishop of Crookston, Minn., Andrew H. Cozzens, emphasized that blessings often accompany calls to repentance from sin. He said in a statement, “[W]hen people come to the Church seeking her blessing let us also proclaim to them the saving love of Jesus found through repentance for all of us who are sinners.”

In Boston, Cardinal Sean O’Malley released a statement welcoming the guidance on blessings, but he warned priests to stay within the parameters of the document.

“Priests imparting these blessings need to be careful that it should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament,” Cardinal O’Malley said. Rather, the document “offers a type of blessing that can be conferred on anyone to invoke God’s help and mercy in their lives.”

“It is the Church reaching out a hand of affection to all Catholics in the hope that these simple gestures provide an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who seek to be guided by a greater understanding of God’s plan for love and truth,” Cardinal O’Malley said.

Some theologians worried that the language in the document might not be clear enough to avoid confusion.

Ulrich L. Lehner, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame, said in a statement that the declaration’s “imprecise language” will create confusion, calling the language an “invitation to schism.”

While praising the document because it may encourage same-sex couples to seek God’s help, Mr. Lehner added, “Some bishops will use it as a pretext to do what the document explicitly forbids.”

Stephen P. White, executive director of The Catholic Project, posted on X, “One could argue that this declaration is bound to cause precisely the kind of confusion and scandal the DDF insists must be avoided.”

Some bishops in Germany and Belgium have defied the church’s ban on blessing same-sex unions in recent months, going so far as to produce a rite of blessing for same-sex couples. That kind of blessing would still be prohibited with the new document, though several German bishops expressed gratitude for the declaration.

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