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In an official response from the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to a question about whether the church has the power to give its blessing to unions of persons of the same sex, the decree said: “Negative.”
A two-page explanation published in seven languages and approved by Pope Francis said “the church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex”.
“The church recalls that God himself never ceases to bless each of his pilgrim children in this world, because for him ‘we are more important to God than all of the sins that we can commit’,” the decree said. “But he does not and cannot bless sin.”
The decree distinguished between the Catholic Church’s welcoming and blessing of gay people, which it upheld, but not their unions.
The pronouncement was interpreted as having a limited impact on the day-to-day workings of the Vatican. It is seen as guidance for priests who might otherwise be considering such blessings, rather than a change of direction for the church, which has long held that gay relationships are “deviant behaviour”.
The decree stated: “It is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage ... as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex.”
Explaining the decision further, the Vatican said the decree was not intended to be a “form of unjust discrimination” and that there were “positive elements” in gay relationships, which should be “valued and appreciated”.
However, it said the church “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”.
Pope Francis has previously endorsed providing gay couples with legal protections in same-sex unions, but that is in reference to the civil sphere, rather than within the church.
His comments were made during an interview with a Mexican television station, Televisa, in 2019, but were cut by the Vatican until they appeared in a documentary last year.
“Homosexual people have a right to be in a family,” he said in the film. “They are children of God and have a right to a family.
“Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”
Responding to Monday’s decree, Andrea Rubera, a spokesperson for Italian Christian LGBT group Paths of Hope, told The Washington Post: “They don’t realise that having a sexual life outside of marriage is not a choice, because there can be none.
“I would ask [the church]: What becomes of all of these believing same-sex couples?”