O The Vatican today published a letter that Francis wrote to the cardinals on July 11, after receiving one of them the day before with a list of five questions.
In the missive, Pope Francis suggests that blessings could be studied if the blessing was not confused with sacramental marriage.
New Ways MInistry, an advocacy and justice ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, said the letter “significantly advances” efforts to get Catholics
LGBTQ+ are welcome in the Church and it is “a big drop in the water” of their marginalization.
The Vatican defends that marriage is an indissoluble union between man and woman. Therefore, it has long been opposed to same-sex marriage.
But even Pope Francis has expressed support for civil laws that extend legal benefits to same-sex spouses, and Catholic priests in some parts of Europe have blessed same-sex unions without Vatican censure.
Francis’ response to the cardinals marks a reversal of the Vatican’s current official position. In a 2021 explanatory note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith categorically stated that the Church could not bless homosexual unions because “God cannot bless sin”.
In his new letter, Francis reiterated that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. But responding to the cardinals’ question about homosexual unions and blessings, he said that “pastoral charity” requires patience and understanding and that, regardless of this, priests cannot become judges “who only deny, reject and exclude.”
“For this reason, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or more people, that do not convey a wrong conception of marriage,” he wrote.
“Because when you ask for a blessing, you are expressing a request for help from God, a plea to be able to live better, a trust in a father who can help you live better”, he stressed.
Noting that there are situations that are “morally unacceptable”, the Pope considers that the same “pastoral charity” requires that people be treated as sinners who may not be entirely to blame for their situation.
Francis added that it is not necessary for dioceses or episcopal conferences to transform this pastoral charity into fixed norms or protocols, saying that the issue can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis “because the life of the Church works in channels beyond the norms.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, welcomed the Pope’s opening.
“The authorization for pastoral ministers to bless same-sex couples implies that the Church recognizes, in fact, that sacred love can exist between same-sex couples and that the love of these couples reflects the love of God,” he said in a statement.
“These recognitions, while not completely what LGBTQ+ Catholics would like, are a huge step forward toward fuller and more comprehensive equality.”
The five cardinals, all conservative prelates from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, challenged Francis to affirm the Church’s teaching on gays, women’s ordination, the pope’s authority and other issues in his letter.
They published the material two days before the start of an important three-week synod at the Vatican, where LGBTQ+ Catholics and their place in the Church are on the agenda.
The signatories are some of Francis’ most vocal critics, all of them reformed and belonging to the more doctrinaire generation of cardinals appointed by John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinals Walter Brandmueller of Germany, former Vatican historian, Raymond Burke of the United States, whom Francis named head of the Vatican Supreme Court, Juan Sandoval of Mexico, retired archbishop of Guadalajara, Robert Sarah of Guinea, retired head of the Vatican liturgy office, and Joseph Zen, retired archbishop of Hong Kong.
Brandmueller and Burke were among four signatories to a previous round of questions (“dubious”) addressed to Francis in 2016, following his controversial opening to allow divorced and civilly remarried couples to receive communion. At the time, the cardinals were concerned that Francis’ position violated the Church’s teachings on the indissolubility of marriage. Francisco never answered their questions, and two of his co-signatories died.
This time, Francisco actually responded.
The cardinals did not publish their response, but apparently found it so unsatisfactory that they reformulated their five questions, submitted them again to Francis and asked him to respond simply with a yes or no. When the Pope did not respond, the cardinals decided to make the texts public and issue a “notification” notice to the faithful.
The Vatican’s doctrine office published its response a few hours later, although without the introduction urging cardinals not to be afraid of the synod.
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