Pope Francis at a ceremony

Pope Francis Has Some Confusing Thoughts About Blessing Gay Marriages

Is the Catholic Church finally mellowing out on LGBTQ rights? Not quite. But Pope Francis has finally weighed in on Catholic clergy granting blessings to gay couples, and his stance on the matter could change how priests approach same-sex marriages on a granular level.

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Traditionally, the pontiff has had a complicated relationship with LGBTQ rights — at times affirming gay Catholics while defending the supposed sanctity of marriage and the so-called traditional family. Yet, it seems that Pope Francis is moving the Church toward a slightly more welcoming direction for certain queer individuals. Read on to learn what the head of the Catholic Church decided on blessing gay couples, and what that spells for the future of gay marriage in Catholicism.

What did Pope Francis say about blessing same-sex couples?

Pope Francis weighed in on blessing gay couples after receiving a dubium (or a formal request for clarification from the papacy) from multiple conservative Catholic cardinals over blessing gay and lesbian unions. In response to the cardinals’ request, Pope Francis gave a carefully worded reason to bless partnered gay and lesbian Catholics.

“When you ask for a blessing, you are expressing a request for help from God, a prayer to be able to live better, a trust in a father who can help us live better,” the pontiff wrote, according to CNN.

Overall, “pastoral prudence must adequately discern if there are forms of blessing, requested by one or various people, which do not convey a wrong concept of marriage,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis meeting a crowd
Bradley Weber/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Per an English translation of the Pope’s letter by Exaudi, the head of the Church argued clergy must not “simply treat as ‘sinners’ other people whose guilt or responsibility may be mitigated by various factors affecting subjective accountability.”

While Pope Francis also argued that “there are situations that are not morally acceptable from an objective point of view,” his response essentially grants the blessing to, yes, bless same-sex couples who seek out aid from clergy.

“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,” Francis DeBernardo of queer Catholic group New Ways Ministry said, per USA Today. “Those recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would want, are an enormous advance towards fuller and more comprehensive equality.”

Did Pope Francis imply the Catholic Church will accept gay marriage?

No. According to Exaudi’s translation of the Pope’s response, the pontiff clearly believes in a heterosexual conception of marriage, reinforced by Church doctrine.

“The Church has a very clear understanding of marriage: an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation,” Pope Francis said, according to Exaudi. “Only this union can be called ‘marriage.’ Other forms of union realize it only in ‘a partial and analogous way’,” which means “they cannot be strictly called ‘marriage.'”

Pope Francis went on to proclaim that marriage “is not just a matter of names,” and that “the reality we call marriage has a unique essential constitution that requires an exclusive name, not applicable to other realities.” He also stressed that the Church “avoids any type of rite or sacramental” which would “contradict this conviction and suggest that something that is not marriage is recognized as marriage.”

Despite Pope Francis’ rejection of gay marriage, the pontiff has taken a warmer and more welcoming stance on gay and lesbian Catholics over the years, even stressing that the Church can be a welcoming place for queer parishioners. Nonetheless, he hasn’t fully opened the door to LGBTQ inclusion. In January 2023, while the pontiff argued that laws against gay and lesbian individuals must be fought, he also said that “being homosexual” is a sin. In 2021, Pope Francis stressed that civil unions can be helpful to gay couples, but that marriage “is a sacrament,” and “the Church doesn’t have the power to change sacraments.”

So it seems unlikely that the Catholic Church will begin marrying gay and lesbian couples in the near future. But same-sex couples may increasingly see a kinder reception from the Pope as the years go on. In the meantime, LGBTQ Catholics will remain in an awkward place as right-wing clergy members continue to insist heteronormative conceptions of partnership must remain at the heart of Catholicism.

(Feature image: Vatican Media via Vatican Pool/Getty Images)

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Image of Ana Valens
Ana Valens
Ana Valens (she/her) is a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers' rights. Her book "Tumblr Porn" details the rise and fall of Tumblr's LGBTQ-friendly 18+ world, and has been hailed by Autostraddle as "a special little love letter" to queer Tumblr's early history. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her ever-growing tarot collection.