Pope Francis has suggested that the Catholic Church may be able to sanction same-sex marriages in some circumstances.
The Pope made the case that the Church would categorically not recognize gay marriage, but he also offered the possibility of blessings for same-sex Catholic couples separate from those given at weddings.
In response to doctrinal inquiries from five conservative cardinals who pressed him to affirm doctrine on homosexuality, the Pope made his views clear.
Their inquiries came ahead of a significant Vatican gathering when LGBT+ Catholics were on the table, as well as at a time when a number of liberal priests have been blessing same-sex couples around the world in defiance of traditional archbishops.
The Catholic Church considers homosexuality “intrinsically disordered” and the Pope has long opposed gay marriage, claiming marriage can only happen between a man and woman. However, his remarks could now signal a change in trajectory and represent a shift away from the Church’s traditional intolerance of homosexuality.
In a letter, published one October 2, he said: “We cannot be judges who only deny, push back, exclude.”
Pope Francis was sent the set of formal questions known as “dubia“ or doubts ahead of the Vatican synod, which will begin on Wednesday, October 4, to decide the future direction of the Church and the inclusion of LGBT+ Catholics.
The Vatican subsequently published a letter Francis wrote to the cardinals on 11 July, where he suggested that such blessings could be considered if they didn’t confuse the blessing with marriage.
In his seven-point response, Francis said the Church was very clear that marriages could be only between a man and a woman and that the Church should avoid any other ritual that contradicted his teaching.
He said “pastoral charity should permeate all our decisions and attitudes”, adding that “we cannot be judges who only deny, reject and exclude”.
“For this reason, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of benediction, requested by one or more persons, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage,” he wrote.
“Because when a benediction is requested, it is expressing a request for help from God, a plea to be able to live better, a trust in a father who can help us to live better.” He noted that there are situations that are objectively “not morally acceptable”.
The Church teaches that same-sex attraction is not sinful but homosexual acts are.
The Pope’s response marks a reversal from the Vatican’s current official position. In 2021 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said flat-out that the Church couldn’t bless gay unions because “God cannot bless sin”.
New Ways Ministry, which advocates LGBT+ Catholics, said the letter “significantly advances” efforts to make the community welcomed in the Church and is “one big straw towards breaking the camel’s back”.
Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of the ministry, in a statement, said the Pope’s words implied “that the church does indeed recognise that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God”.