Pope Francis has suggested he would be open to having the Catholic Church bless same-sex unions. In 2021, the Vatican decreed that the Catholic Church would not bless gay marriages because God “cannot bless sin”.
But late Monday, the Vatican published a letter by Pope Francis addressed to a group of cardinals who asked him for clarity on the issue.
Though the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PSN, chose to maintain a dignified silence on the issue, an official of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, CSN, who chose to remain anonymous, the Pope’s emphasis on ‘pastoral charity’ suggests a willingness to address the pastoral needs of same-sex couples and extend understanding and support to them.
However, the Pontiff reiterated that the church only recognised marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but could open the door for blessings of individuals in same-sex unions.
The pope said “pastoral charity” required patience and understanding, adding that priests should not become judges “who only deny, reject and exclude”.
He said a blessing requested was a plea for God’s help to live a better life, even in situations that were “not morally acceptable”.
The religious leader said priests should not only treat people as sinners because they might not fully be at fault for their situations.
Pope Francis suggested that blessing gay unions should not become an official rule but should be decided case by case “because the life of the church runs on channels beyond norms”.
He wrote: “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.
“Only this union can be called marriage. Other forms of union realise it only in a partial and analogous way so they cannot be strictly called marriage.
“For this reason, the Church avoids any type of rite or sacramental that might contradict this conviction and suggest that something that is not marriage is recognised as marriage.
“However, in our relationships with people, we must not lose the pastoral charity, which should permeate all our decisions and attitudes.
“The defence of objective truth is not the only expression of this charity; it also includes kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement. Therefore, we cannot be judges who only deny, reject, and exclude.
“Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage.
“For when a blessing is requested, it is expressing a plea to God for help, a supplication to live better. Although there are situations that are not morally acceptable from an objective point of view, the same pastoral charity requires us not to simply treat as sinners other people whose guilt or responsibility may be mitigated by various factors affecting subjective accountability.
“Decisions that may be part of pastoral prudence in certain circumstances should not necessarily become a norm. Not everything that is part of practical discernment in particular circumstances can be elevated to the level of a rule.
“Canon law should not and cannot cover everything, as the life of the Church flows through many channels other than normative ones.”
In 2020, Pope Francis called gay Catholics “children of God” and gave his endorsement to same-sex civil unions.
Reacting to the issue last night, an official from the CSN, who chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, said: “The Pope’s emphasis on ‘pastoral charity’ suggests a willingness to address the pastoral needs of same-sex couples and extend understanding and support to them.”
This, he noted, aligned with Pope Francis’s previous calls for a more merciful and inclusive church.
Despite the Pope’s compassionate stance, the official was quick to stress that this did not signify a change in the Church’s traditional teachings on homosexuality.
“Pope Francis also emphasized that the Catholic Church still considers same-sex relationships ‘objectively sinful’ and does not recognize same-sex marriage,” the CSN official clarified.
“The Pope’s role is to guide and interpret Church teachings, and any potential changes or developments in the Church’s stance on same-sex relationships would require careful consideration and consultation within the broader framework of Catholic theology and doctrine.”
The Pope’s nuanced approach to the issue, as interpreted by the CSN, suggests a shift away from an exclusive focus on denial, rejection, and exclusion.