In response to five conservative cardinals who lobbied him to endorse church teaching on homosexuality before of a significant summit where LGBTQ+ Catholics are on the agenda, Pope Francis acknowledged that there may be approaches to bless homosexual marriages.
After receiving a list of five questions, or dubia, from the cardinals the previous day, Francis addressed a letter to them on July 11 that was made public by the Vatican on Monday. Francis says in it that if people didn’t equate blessings with sacramental marriage, then such blessings could be researched.
The letter “significantly advances” efforts to make LGBTQ+ Catholics welcome in the church, according to New Ways Ministry, which promotes the rights of LGBTQ+ Catholics. It also serves as “one big straw towards breaking the camel’s back” in terms of their segregation.
According to the Vatican, a man and a woman’s marriage is an inseparable connection. It has long been against gay marriage as a result. Francis has, however, expressed support for civil laws that grant same-sex spouses’ legal benefits, and Catholic priests in some parts of Europe have been approving homosexual marriages without receiving Vatican condemnation.
Francis’ reaction to the cardinals, nonetheless, represents a change from the Vatican’s official position at the moment. In 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith provided an explanation which expressed the church’s disapproval regarding the blessing of gay unions claiming “God cannot bless sin”.
Francis reaffirmed in his most recent letter that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. However, in response to the cardinals’ inquiry concerning homosexual marriages and blessings, he said “pastoral charity” requires tolerance and understanding and that priests should not become 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.”
Despite the fact that some circumstances were technically “not morally acceptable,” he claimed that people had to be treated as sinners even though they weren’t necessarily entirely to blame for their predicaments in order to practice “pastoral charity”.
The issue may be handled on a case-by-case basis, Francis said, “because the life of the church runs on channels beyond norms,” adding that there was no need for dioceses or bishops’ conferences to codify such pastoral compassion into permanent norms or regulations.
The pope’s openness was applauded by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.
“The allowance for pastoral ministers to bless same-gender couples implies that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples, and the love of these couples mirrors the love of God,” DeBernardo said in a statement. “Those recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would want, are an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality.”
In their letter, the five cardinals—conservative prelates from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas—challenged Francis to affirm church teaching on homosexual persons, women’s ordination, the power of the pope, and other topics.
Two days before the commencement of a significant three-week synod at the Vatican, where LGBTQ+ Catholics and their place in the church are on the agenda, they published the material.
All of the signatories most vocal were retired cardinals from the more doctrinal generation appointed by St John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI.
Amongst others, Brandmueller and Burke were among four signatories to a previous group of dubia to Francis in 2016 following his questionable decision to allow divorced and civilly remarried spouses to receive communion. The cardinals were concerned that Francis’ approach contradicted church doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage. Francis never responded to their questions, and two of their co-signatories died later.
This time, Francis responded however the cardinals did not publish his response, but it appears that they were so disappointed with it that they recast their five questions, resubmitted them to him, and asked him to simply respond with a yes or no. When he did not, the cardinals made the passages public and issued a “notification” to the faithful.
A few hours later, the Vatican’s doctrinal office issued his response to them, but it without his introduction in which he urged the cardinals not to be scared of the synod.