ROME, Italy — Pope Francis has formally approved allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, with a new document explaining a radical change in Vatican policy by insisting that people seeking God’s love and mercy shouldn’t be subject to “an exhaustive moral analysis” to receive it.
The document from the Vatican’s doctrine office, released Monday, elaborates on a letter Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published in October.
In that preliminary response, Francis suggested such blessings could be offered under some circumstances if they didn’t confuse the ritual with the sacrament of marriage.
The new document repeats that condition and elaborates on it, reaffirming that marriage is a lifelong sacrament between a man and a woman.
And it stresses that blessings in question must be non-liturgical in nature and should not be conferred at the same time as a civil union, using set rituals or even with the clothing and gestures that belong in a wedding.
But it says requests for such blessings for same-sex couples should not be denied full stop. It offers an extensive and broad definition of the term “blessing” in Scripture to insist that people seeking a transcendent relationship with God and looking for his love and mercy should not be subject to “an exhaustive moral analysis” as a precondition for receiving it.
“Ultimately, a blessing offers people a means to increase their trust in God,” the document said.
“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.”
He added: “It is a seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered.”
The document marks the latest gesture of outreach from a pope who has made welcoming LGBTQ+ Catholics a hallmark of his papacy. From his 2013 quip, “Who am I to judge?” about a purportedly gay priest, to his 2023 comment to The Associated Press that “Being homosexual is not a crime,” Francis has distinguished himself from all his predecessors with his message of welcome.
“The significance of this news cannot be overstated,” said Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, which supports LGBTQ+ Catholics. “It is one thing to formally approve same-gender blessings, which he had already pastorally permitted, but to say that people should not be subjected to “an exhaustive moral analysis” to receive God’s love and mercy is an even more significant step.”
The Vatican holds that marriage is an indissoluble union between man and woman. As a result, it has long opposed same-sex marriage.
And in 2021, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said flat-out that the church couldn’t bless the unions of two men or two women because “God cannot bless sin.”
That document created an outcry, one it appeared even Francis was blindsided by even though he had technically approved its publication. Soon after it was published, he removed the official responsible for it and set about laying the groundwork for a reversal.
In the new document, the Vatican said the church must shy away from “doctrinal or disciplinary schemes, especially when they lead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.”
It stressed that people in “irregular” unions of extramarital sex — gay or straight — are in a state of sin. But it said that shouldn’t deprive them of God’s love or mercy. “Even when a person’s relationship with God is clouded by sin, he can always ask for a blessing, stretching out his hand to God,” the document said.
Offering such a blessing isn’t legitimizing anything. But at the same time, the church shouldn’t judge, he said.
“Thus, when people ask for a blessing, an exhaustive moral analysis should not be placed as a precondition for conferring it,” the document said.
The Rev. James Martin, who advocates for a greater welcome for LGBTQ+ Catholics, praised the new document as a “huge step forward” and a “dramatic shift” from the Vatican’s 2021 policy.
The new document “recognizes the deep desire in many Catholic same-sex couples for God’s presence and help in their committed relationships,” he said in an email.
“Along with many Catholic priests, I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex marriages.”