US Dioceses Respond to Vatican Declaration on Same-Sex Couple Blessings

"The document still prohibits any sort of liturgical blessing of homosexual couples because such a blessing would 'offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice'.”

Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, and Cardinal Blase Cupich.
Cardinal Seán O’Malley, Bishop Andrew Cozzens, and Cardinal Blase Cupich. (photo: Credit: Daniel Ibañez / CNA and Diocese of Crookston)

Several American Catholic dioceses have already issued statements on how they intend to implement new Vatican guidelines that permit nonliturgical pastoral blessings of homosexual couples, but it’s still unclear what this will look like in most of the country.

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a declaration on Monday titled Fiducia Supplicans, which allows “spontaneous” pastoral blessings for “same-sex couples” and other couples in “irregular situations.”

According to the document, nonliturgical blessings are “meant for everyone” and are available for those who “do not claim a legitimation of their own status but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

The document still prohibits any sort of liturgical blessing of homosexual couples because such a blessing would “offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice.” It adds that pastoral, nonliturgical blessings “should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them” and cannot “be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”

More Dioceses Respond to New Guidelines

The implementation of the new guidelines could differ from diocese to diocese, as various bishops appear to be emphasizing different parts of the document. 

In the Diocese of Crookston, Minnesota, Bishop Andrew Cozzens emphasized the reaffirmation of the Catholic doctrine that defines marriage as between a man and a woman, which he said “is rooted in the Gospel we have received from Jesus Christ” and, therefore, “is unchangeable.”

Bishop Cozzens noted that Christ responds to sinners who open their hearts to him “with mercy and inviting them to deeper repentance and discipleship” but also noted that Christ calls them to “repentance and conversion.” 

“Although it is impossible for us to bless a same-sex union, since any sexual union outside of the marriage of one man and one woman is contrary to the Gospel, we may bless individuals who are not yet living in full accord with the Gospel, even those in a same-sex union,” Bishop Cozzens said.

Cardinal Seán O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston similarly noted in a statement that priests must be careful to ensure that any pastoral blessing does not resemble a liturgical act, noting that Church teaching on marriage has not changed and that the Vatican document teaches that “all Catholics, including those whose unions are not recognized by the Church, as equally in need of God’s grace and love.”

“The document … offers a type of blessing that can be conferred on anyone to invoke God’s help and mercy in their lives,” Cardinal O’Malley said, according to the Boston Pilot. “It is the Church reaching out a hand of affection to all Catholics in the hope that these simple gestures provide an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who seek to be guided by a greater understanding of God’s plan for love and truth.”

The Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, issued a statement that also emphasized the unchanging Catholic doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives,” the statement read, according to WBAY

Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago also issued a statement, emphasizing different parts of the document, particularly the call for compassion. 

“The declaration is a step forward and in keeping not only with Pope Francis’ desire to accompany people pastorally but Jesus’ desire to be present to all people who desire grace and support,” Cupich said.

Cardinal Cupich’s statement cited the document’s distinction between a liturgical blessing and a pastoral blessing. He said the Vatican is calling priests to be available to those who are “not claiming a legitimation of their own status [but] recognize their need for God’s help.” 

“Here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, we welcome this declaration, which will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God,” Cardinal Cupich concluded.

Opportunity for Diocesan Leadership

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document has led to some controversy among the Catholic faithful and some confusion about what the Vatican is actually calling on bishops and priests to do. 

John Grobowski, a professor of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America, told CNA that bishops should “reiterate to people” that “the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality hasn’t changed.” 

Grobowksi underscored the importance of clarifying what the document does and does not say. 

“I think that could be helpful both to reassure people but also to underscore that no, this is not a blanket permission for the Church to bless same-sex couples as seems to be going on in Germany and other places in the world,” he said. 

He warned that the document could be “misunderstood” or “used for purposes that it actually seems to try to restrict or guard against” but that proper clarification from bishops could “help to avoid misapplications of this document.” 

“We need to stick to what the text says,” Grabowski added, noting that if people “read carefully what the document says and what it clearly precludes, there’s less cause for consternation.”

Pope Francis signs the honor book in Belem Presidential Palace in Lisbon, Portugal on Aug. 2, 2023.

Pope Francis’ Media Moment (April 6)

Father Roger Landry joins us with his reflections on Divine Mercy, and how penance cleanses the soul for receiving Christ in the Eucharist. Matthew Bunson and Jeanette De Melo take a look at Pope Francis’ media moment. A trove of books and recently published media interviews are spotlighting the Holy Father and his message.