The Roman Catholic Church does not endorse same-sex unions and will not allow priests to bless them, a new Vatican document states unequivocally.
The document, released Monday with the blessing of Pope Francis, calls such unions a "choice" and says God "does not and cannot bless sin."
"It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (ie, outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex," the announcement reads. "The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator's plan." It quotes an earlier statement from Francis that "there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family."
Vatican officials said the document was issued because the pope had received an inquiry on the matter. The Rev. James Martin, a priest who has advocated for greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in the church, said the inquiry likely came from some German clergy members ahead of a meeting in their nation.
"It seems to be the Vatican's response to some German bishops who had mentioned this possibility, in the run up to their country's synod, as a way of reaching out to LGBTQ people," Martin told the Associated Press via email. Some German Catholic clergy and laypeople have been pushing for changes in church doctrine on LGBTQ+ issues, priestly celibacy, and contraception.
Bishop Georg Batzing, head of the German bishops' conference, said the assembly would take the document into account but added, "There are no easy answers to questions like these."
The announcement does not represent a change in church teachings but rather an affirmation; the church has never blessed same-sex unions and expects faithful Catholics not to act on what it calls same-sex attractions.
Pope Francis has previously made comments appearing to endorse civil unions for same-sex couples as an alternative to equal marriage rights, but those statements referred to legal recognition, not church blessing. In a documentary, Francesco, released in Rome last year, he called same-sex couples "children of God" who "have a right to a family," adding, "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."
The comments came from an interview with a Mexican broadcaster that took place in 2019, but they were never released until the documentary came out. The pope was referring to the position he took when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires; at the time Argentina's government was considering marriage equality -- which it approved in 2010.
Some Catholic activists for LGBTQ+ equality had warned not to get excited about Francis's remarks in the documentary, and Monday's announcement confirmed their feelings, but they said the fight for equality will continue.
"This decision ... is an impotent one because it won't stop the movement to bless such couples, and, in fact, it will actually encourage Catholics in the pews and the many Catholic leaders who are eager for such blessings to happen to work harder in their support -- and blessing -- of same-sex couples," said a statement from Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Maryland-based New Ways Ministry.
"Catholics will continue to find creative ways to bless the couples they love and support," DeBernardo added. "If priests and pastoral ministers no longer feel they can perform such a blessing, the Catholic laity will step in and perform their own rituals, gestures, and words of support. The fact that this discussion is well underway ensures that it will continue. The toothpaste is out of the tube and it can't be put back inside."
"DignityUSA has been blessing and marrying same-sex couples for 50 years and is committed to gaining equal access to the sacraments for LGBTQ+ people," Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the group, said in a press release. "We have been privileged to witness the amazing tenacity and profound love of same-sex couples who have been together for 45, 50 years or more. They remained committed despite lack of social supports, their relationships being considered illegal and immoral, and family rejection. If these people are not models of grace deserving of every blessing, I don't know who are."
In an interview with The Washington Post, she added, "I think it's hard for a lot of people to understand just how far removed the church is from human rights advances that are being made in the rest of society." She said the announcement would "exacerbate" the negative emotions many LGBTQ+ Catholics are experiencing.
Francis, who became pope in 2013, has been noted for his conciliatory attitude toward LGBTQ+ people, such as his "Who am I to judge?" statement from that year. But he has consistently reaffirmed Catholic teachings against same-sex unions, gender transition, and other advances for the LGBTQ+ community.
Steve White, a fellow in the Catholic studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., told the Post there is no inconsistency in the pope expressing love for LGBTQ+ Catholics but expecting them to obey church teachings. Anyone thinking there would be a change in doctrine wasn't being realistic, he said.
"This isn't a waffling back and forth from Pope Francis," he said. "This is totally consistent with statements like 'Who am I to judge?' People who don't see that are misunderstanding the pope."