Catholic Church could bless same-sex couples – Pope Francis

Pope Francis has suggested he would be open to having the Catholic Church bless same-sex couples.

Responding to a group of cardinals who asked him for clarity on the issue, he said any request for a blessing should be treated with “pastoral charity”.

“We cannot be judges who only deny, reject and exclude,” he said.

He added, however, that the Church still considered same-sex relationships “objectively sinful” and would not recognise same-sex marriage.

The request was one of a number sent to the Pope ahead of a weeks-long global gathering to discuss the future of the Church, set to get under way at the Vatican on Wednesday.

In the Catholic Church, a blessing is a prayer or plea, usually delivered by a minister, asking for God to look favourably on the person or people being blessed.

Bishops in a number of countries, including Belgium and Germany, have begun to allow priests to bless same-sex couples, but the position of Church authorities remained unclear.

Though this seems a significant change in tone, it has to be remembered that as recently the spring of 2021, the same pope approved a decree from the Vatican’s doctrinal office forbidding priests from blessing same-sex unions.

Then, it was stressed that such partnerships are sinful and as such could not be blessed. Earlier this year, when Pope Francis talked of homosexuality not being a crime, he still talked of it as being a sin.

In referring to blessings now, Pope Francis has not expressly talked of what would be blessed: the unions or the individual or group wanting to be blessed.

He talked more generally of those asking for blessing as expressing a request for help from God to be able to live better, something he said should not be denied them.

The Pope said the Church understood marriage to be an “exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman” and should avoid “any type of rite or sacramental that might contradict this conviction”.

But he added that “when a blessing is requested, it is expressing a plea to God for help, a supplication to live better”.

“Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage,” he said.

Appearing to suggest that requests for blessings should be considered on a case-by-case basis, he said that “decisions that may be part of pastoral prudence in certain circumstances should not necessarily become a norm”.

“Canon law should not and cannot cover everything,” he said.

He added that the Church should always approach its relationships with people with “kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness and encouragement”.

While this does not mark a doctrinal departure, Pope Francis’ papacy has been characterised by moves to soften the Church’s language on sexuality and other key issues.

That is something that, throughout, has angered those conservatives who look to hold more strictly to the historic teachings of the faith.

In February, a vote of senior figures in the Church of England backed proposals to allow prayers of blessing for same-sex couples.

The move would mean a same-sex couple could go to an Anglican church after a legal marriage ceremony for services including prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and God’s blessing.