Pope Francis has opened the door to Catholic blessings for same-sex couples, despite holding that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.
In response to a series of questions from five cardinals, known as a dubia, Pope Francis said that there may be some forms of blessing for same-sex couples that are consistent with Catholic doctrine.
He also emphasized the importance of pastoral sensitivity to the needs of same-sex couples in his response to the questions submitted by Cardinals Walter Brandmüller and Raymond Leo Burke and supported by three other Cardinals, Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, Robert Sarah, and Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.
The Dubia questioned the necessity of the upcoming synod, asked whether the blessing of same-sex unions was theologically admissible, and questioned the Pope’s claim that “forgiveness is a human right.”
Francis has also suggested the question of women’s ordination to the priesthood, controversially prohibited by Pope John Paul II in 1994, could be open to further study.
“Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or several people, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage,” Francis wrote in a letter dated Sept. 25 and released by the Vatican on Oct. 2.
The pope’s words come in response to five retired conservative Catholic cardinals who had written to the pontiff, expressing concerns about a number of hot-button issues that are expected to be discussed at a major Vatican meeting this month, known as the Synod of Bishops.
The pope’s eight-page reply to some of his most vociferous critics was offered in response to their questions — formally known as dubia — regarding gay blessings, women’s ordination to priesthood, synodality, divine revelation and the nature of forgiveness. The cardinals, apparently frustrated by the pope’s reply to them, had made public their original questions earlier in the day on Oct. 2.
“The Church is a ‘mystery of missionary communion,’ but this communion is not only affective or ethereal; it necessarily implies real participation,” Pope Francis wrote. “Not only the hierarchy but the entire People of God in various ways and at different levels can make their voices heard and feel part of the Church’s journey.”
Pope Francis did not explicitly say that same-sex couples can receive the same type of blessing as heterosexual couples who get married, his response is considered a significant step forward for the Catholic Church, which has long been opposed to homosexual unions.
It is also unclear how Pope Francis’s response will be implemented in practice, since some bishops may be more open to blessing same-sex couples than others.
Nevertheless, Pope Francis’s response is a sign of his willingness to be more inclusive and welcoming to LGBTQ people. It is also a sign that the Catholic Church is slowly evolving on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“I have often wondered whether I can stay in a Church that doesn’t want me. But the ‘real’ Church here, on the ground, restores my faith again,” said Matthias, who was also born Catholic and received a blessing with his partner Thomas.
Matthias explained that going to Mass has never been a problem but statements from Catholic officials have made him consider leaving the Church.
Two years ago, some 120 German priests defied the ban on blessing same-sex unions.
That rebellion gave lesbian and gay Catholics hope after a lifetime in the Church, as the first time they have felt fully accepted.
Blessings for same-sex couples are just part of a growing movement of liberal Catholics who want change in Germany, where grassroots organizations, such as Maria 2.0, also call for equal rights for women in the Church.
“The Church used to say the Earth was flat and told us we had to believe that. The Church had to change its position. Or you were supposed to believe that Adam and Eve were real people,” said Ulrike Göken-Huismann, who was among the women preaching from the pulpits of 12 different Catholic churches across Germany -something the Vatican also frowns on.
After she delivered a sermon in her church in Düsseldorf, Göken-Huismann said: “It is just not the case that the Church never changes its teaching.”