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The Vatican issued a statement Monday, March 15, saying that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions since God "cannot bless sin."
The Vatican's orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a formal response to a question about whether Catholic clergy can bless gay unions.
The answer, contained in a two-page explanation published in seven languages and approved by Pope Francis, was "negative."
The decree upheld the church's welcoming and blessing of gay people, but not their unions since any such sacramental recognition could be confused with marriage.
The Vatican holds that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect, but that gay sex is "intrinsically disordered." Catholic teaching holds that marriage, a lifelong union between a man and woman, is part of God's plan and is intended for the sake of creating new life.
Since gay unions are not intended to be part of that plan, they cannot be blessed by the church, the document said.
That stance is similar to the Chrisitan Reformed Church’s position on homosexuality, established by Synod 1973, which recognizes “persons of same-sex attraction may not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church” but that “explicit homosexual practice … is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.” That teaching is revisited in a report of the CRC’s Committee to Articulate a Foundation-Laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality released to the churches in the fall of 2019. The report will come before Synod 2022.
The Vatican statement said, "The presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator's plan."
God "does not and cannot bless sin: He blesses sinful man, so that (man) may recognize that he is part of (God’s) plan of love and allow himself to be changed by (God)," it said.
Francis has endorsed providing gay couples with legal protections in same-sex unions, but that is in reference to the civil sphere, not within the church. Those comments were made during an interview with a Mexican broadcaster, Televisa, in 2019, but were cut by the Vatican until they appeared in a documentary last year.
Francis told Televisa: "Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God." Speaking of families with gay children, he said: "You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered."
In the new document and an accompanying article of commentary, the Vatican said questions had been raised about whether the church should bless same-sex unions in a sacramental way in recent years, and after Francis had insisted on the need to better welcome and accompany gay people in the church.
In the article, the Vatican stressed the "fundamental and decisive distinction" between gay individuals and gay unions, noting that "the negative judgment on the blessing of unions of persons of the same sex does not imply a judgment on persons."
But it explained the rationale for forbidding a blessing of such unions, noting that any union that involves sexual activity outside of marriage cannot be blessed because it is not in a state of grace, or "ordered to both receive and express the good that is pronounced and given by the blessing."
And it added that blessing a same-sex union could give the impression of a sort of sacramental equivalence to marriage. "This would be erroneous and misleading," the article said.
By Nicole Winfield for the Associated Press