Pope Francis says Catholic priests may offer blessings for same-sex couples while clarifying the church’s position on same-sex marriage.
Pope Francis made what some call “a radical shift” in church policy. He formally approved blessings for same-sex couples. But while the blessings may make the church feel more inclusive, he did not lift the church’s ban on gay marriage. The Vatican stressed it is not changing its views on marriage and that it believes it is between one man and one woman.
At best, the change may make LGBTQ+ Catholics feel more of a sense of belonging than they’ve ever had in their church. A 34-year-old gay man, for example, told NBC News that the church, prior to the change, hasn’t always been a place for people to come together…at least for gay members.
“Pope Francis is saying, ‘You belong here,’” he said. “‘No matter what you’ve been told, no matter what your quote-unquote sins are, you are wanted here.'”
Did Francis go far enough?
The answer to that question, I imagine, depends on your stance on LGBTQ+ rights. I see some applauding the move as a needed step. I see others criticizing it because it didn’t completely lift the church’s ban on same-sex unions.
Unfortunately, history has demonstrated again and again that rights do not come in one fell swoop. There are always steps, always conditions and always snags in granting people liberties and freedom.
The church — and Francis specifically — has certainly taken steps to embrace its LGBTQ+ community. The Pontiff endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples in 2020. He criticized as “unjust” laws criminalizing homosexuality back in January. Then, in November, he said transgender people can be baptized and can serve as godparents and witnesses at religious weddings.
Perhaps those steps come at a good pace. They may help more conservative Catholics slowly begin to embrace their fellow Catholics who happen to be LGBTQ+. At the same time, perhaps they may help those members who feel ostracized begin healing.
The devil in the details
The more you read about what will actually change, though, the less “embracing” it seems to sound.
The Vatican issued a letter clarifying Francis’ letter to two cardinals on the subject of the blessings. Besides reaffirming that marriage involves a man and woman, it lays out conditions for the same-sex marriage blessings. It “stresses that blessings in question must not be tied to any specific Catholic celebration or religious service and should not be conferred at the same time as a civil union ceremony.”
The letter also stipulates that the cannot use “set rituals or even involve the clothing and gestures that belong in a wedding.”
If the pope — and the church itself — can’t bring itself to lift the ban on same-sex marriage, this is at least an accomplishment in and of itself. It acknowledges what should be obvious: banning same-sex marriage won’t turn people straight.
Unfortunately, it feels a lot like the notion of “separate but equal,” which history has likewise taught is rarely truly equal, particularly in the minds and hearts of those forced into that “separate” category.
Maybe we can consider it a victory with an asterisk. It’s another step, yes. But perhaps it’s a reminder that there’s still a long way to go in understanding each other, even in the same faith community.