TIMELINE: What has the Catholic Church said about same-sex ‘blessings’?

A blessing service at St. Augustin Catholic church in Würzburg, Germany, for couples, including those of the same-sex, May 10, 2021. A blessing service at St. Augustin Catholic church in Würzburg, Germany, for couples, including those of the same-sex, May 10, 2021. | Credit: CNA Deutsch

The Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a declaration titled Fiducia Supplicans on Dec. 18, which authorizes nonliturgical blessings of “same-sex couples” and other couples who are in “irregular situations.” 

Although the Church maintains its prohibition on liturgical blessings of “same-sex couples” and maintains the teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman, the document allows priests to offer “spontaneous” pastoral blessings, which it says are “meant for everyone.”

The document adds that such blessings are 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.”

Fiducia Supplicans states that liturgical blessings, alternatively, are not permitted because they would “offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extramarital sexual practice.” 

The document emphasizes that the “spontaneous” pastoral blessings “should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act” and “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.”

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the prefect for the dicastery, wrote the declaration and Pope Francis signed off on it. The cardinal said the declaration “implies a real development from what has been said about blessings in the magisterium and the official texts of the Church.”

Here is a timeline of how the Vatican and bishops have addressed the issue of same-sex blessings over the past four years:

December 2019: German Synodal Way begins

German bishops initiate a gathering, called the “German Synodal Way,” designed to address a number of controversial issues, including the possibility of blessing same-sex unions. 

March 2021: Vatican formally rejects blessing homosexual unions

On March 15, 2021, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith rejects the notion that the Church could bless homosexual unions. Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, then-prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, issues the statement in response to a formal question about the issue. 

To the question “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?” the office responds “negative.” The accompanying explanatory note includes the line: “The Sovereign Pontiff Francis, at the audience granted to the undersigned secretary of this congregation, was informed and gave his assent to the publication of the above-mentioned responsum ad dubium, with the annexed explanatory note.”

May 2021: German priests bless homosexual unions

On May 10, priests throughout Germany defy the Vatican’s rejection of blessing homosexual unions. In protest of the Vatican’s position, priests hold “blessing services for lovers,” which are open to homosexual and heterosexual couples. These “blessings” take place in about 80 cities, but it is unclear how many homosexual couples participate.

July 2022: Vatican criticizes German Synodal Way

The Vatican issues a warning to German bishops on July 21 stating that the German Synodal Way threatens the unity of the Church. The warning comes as the bishops are considering a number of controversial topics, which include the so-called blessing of homosexual unions. 

“It would not be permissible to introduce new official structures or doctrines in dioceses before an agreement had been reached at the level of the universal Church, which would constitute a violation of ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church,” the Vatican warns. 

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September 2022: Belgian bishops formally back blessings

On Sept. 20, the bishops of Flanders, the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, publish a liturgy for the celebration of homosexuals who are in a relationship. 

The liturgy includes prayers, Scripture reading, and parts in which the couple can “express before God how they are committed to one another.”

The bishops also announce that each diocese will appoint a person “to give explicit attention to the situation of homosexual persons, their parents, and families in the conduct of policy.” They add that Pope Francis expressed the need for this type of accompaniment in his 2016 apostolic exhortation on the pastoral care of families, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).

November 2022: Vatican urges German bishops to halt Synodal Way

The Vatican requests that the German bishops temporarily halt the German Synodal Way, which the bishops ultimately refuse to do. 

March 2023: German Synodal Way backs homosexual blessings

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The German Synodal Way approves a document that allows for the blessing of homosexual unions titled “Blessing ceremonies for couples who love each other.” The vote passes overwhelmingly with only nine of 58 bishops opposing the document. Another 11 abstain from voting. If the other 11 had voted against the proposal, it would have failed to reach the necessary two-thirds majority. 

July 2023: New Vatican leader suggests blessings possible

On July 1, Pope Francis appoints Argentine Archbishop (now Cardinal) Víctor Manuel Fernández to head the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith. In the first week of his new role, the archbishop suggests that some type of blessing of homosexual unions could be considered.

When asked if he agrees with the Vatican’s rejection of “blessing” homosexual unions in 2021, Fernández responds: “Now, if a blessing is given in such a way that it does not cause that confusion, it will have to be analyzed and confirmed.”  

He adds: “As you will see, there is a point where we leave a properly theological discussion and move on to a question that is rather prudential or disciplinary.” 

July 10, 2023: Five cardinals submit dubia to Pope Francis

Five cardinals submit a formal set of questions, or dubia, to Pope Francis to express their concerns and seek clarification on points of doctrine and discipline ahead of the Oct. 4 opening of the Synod on Synodality at the Vatican.

One of the questions pertains to same-sex blessings. The cardinals — German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, American Cardinal Raymond Burke, Hong Kong Cardinal Zen Ze-Kiun, Mexican Cardinal Juan Sandoval Íñiguez, and Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah — point to the Church’s teaching based on divine revelation and Scripture that “God created man in his own image, male and female he created them and blessed them, that they might be fruitful” (Gn 1:27–28), and St. Paul’s teaching that to deny sexual difference is the consequence of the denial of the Creator (Rom 1:24–32). They then ask the pope if the Church can deviate from such teaching and accept “as a ‘possible good’ objectively sinful situations, such as same-sex unions, without betraying revealed doctrine?”

July 11, 2023: Pope Francis responds to the dubia

Pope Francis addresses the cardinals’ questions the day after the dubia is sent. Regarding same-sex blessings, he writes that the Church “avoids any rite or sacramental that may contradict” its conviction in marriage as “an exclusive, stable, and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to procreation.”

“However,” the pope continues, “in dealing with people, we must not lose pastoral charity,” explaining that “pastoral prudence must discern properly if there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons, that do not convey a mistaken conception of marriage.” Citing his 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, the pope adds that such blessings “do not necessarily have to become a norm.”

Aug. 21, 2023: The cardinals submit a revised dubia

The same cardinals send a revised dubia to Pope Francis, this time requesting “yes” and “no” answers to their questions. They later explain that they took this step because the pope’s responses “have not resolved the doubts we had raised, but have, if anything, deepened them.”

Oct. 2, 2023: The dubia and Pope Francis’ response are made public

The cardinals release their dubia to the news media, along with an accompanying statement to the faithful, but they do not publicly share the response they received from Pope Francis. Soon after, the Vatican releases the full text of the pope’s replies.

December 2023: 

The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, issues the declaration Fiducia Supplicans on Dec. 18, which authorizes nonliturgical blessings of “same-sex couples” and other couples in “irregular situations.”

On the same day, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issues a statement that clarifies that the declaration does not change the Church’s teaching on marriage as between a man and a woman only. The Church’s unchanging doctrines related to marriage are affirmed in the Vatican declaration. 

Several dioceses reaffirm the Church’s doctrines on marriage. Some members of the Church hierarchy express gratitude for the declaration while others, such as bishops in Kazakhstan, admonish Pope Francis for approving the declaration. 

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