Critics Say Pope Francis’ Approval of Blessings for Same-Sex Couples Is a ‘Theological Disaster’

Michael Foust | CrosswalkHeadlines Contributor | Updated: Dec 20, 2023
Critics Say Pope Francis’ Approval of Blessings for Same-Sex Couples Is a ‘Theological Disaster’

Critics Say Pope Francis’ Approval of Blessings for Same-Sex Couples Is a ‘Theological Disaster’

In a landmark move, Pope Francis on Monday released new guidance that allows for the blessing of same-sex couples while at the time labeling such relationships “irregular” and re-stating the Vatican’s position that marriage is defined as the union of one man, one woman.

The Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith released the document, saying “a blessing may be imparted” on “couples in irregular situations” and “couples of the same sex” as long as the blessing is not “imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies” of marriage nor “performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding.”

“Since the Church has always considered only those sexual relations that are lived out within marriage to be morally licit, the Church does not have the power to confer its liturgical blessing when that would somehow offer a form of moral legitimacy to a union that presumes to be a marriage or to an extra-marital sexual practice,” the document says.

Catholic News Agency said the guidance is the “latest -- and most authoritative -- intervention by the Vatican on an issue that has embroiled the universal Church in recent years.”

Despite the document’s nuanced view of “blessings,” Christian leaders worldwide said it was significant.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., called it a “major development” and a “theological disaster.” Mohler made the comments on his podcast, The Briefing.

“In particular, it’s a disaster because the impact of this on the larger culture is going to be to add momentum to the very forces that are tearing apart gender, tearing apart sexuality, tearing apart civilization, tearing apart marriage,” Mohler said.

Conservative Catholics in the United States and elsewhere, Mohler wrote in a follow-up column, “have been bracing themselves for this kind of declaration from the Vatican.”

“Sadly, here it is,” Mohler wrote at World Opinions. “This new doctrine and policy will not placate the liberals, who will not be satisfied until the Catholic Church affirms and priests perform same-sex marriages, and it will infuriate the conservatives who understand full well what is happening. Evangelical Christians must respond by holding fast to biblical truth soberly, joyfully, seriously, and steadfastly.”

James Martin, a Jesuit priest and a supporter of same-sex marriage, said the document will have a major impact worldwide.

“Be wary of the ‘Nothing has changed’ response to today's news. It's a significant change. In short, yesterday, as a priest, I was forbidden to bless same-sex couples at all. Today, with some limitations, I can,” Martin posted on X, formerly Twitter. 

Others, though, downplayed the document. 

“Remember, at every Mass, the priest blesses sinners: couples living together, those using contraception, adulterers, etc., etc., AND that's the point of the blessing: God deigns to bless everyone. What we DO with the Grace the blessing imparts is up to us. The HF [Pope] is simply saying that a priest can bless anyone/everyone,” Father Jim Sichko said. “He also notes that a priest can consecrate ONLY males with females for the blessing of marriage. There is a distinction (always has been) in the point and power/authority of blessings. Some can be given by the nonordained if given in an individual's name, like a dad giving HIS blessing to a marriage.

“... If we can bless a NASCAR race, we can bless people in need or those seeking God's love. Blessings do not impart approval. They impart grace to lead to approval,” Sichko added.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reiterated that the statement does not change the definition of marriage.

“The [declaration] articulated a distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings and pastoral blessings, which may be given to persons who desire God’s loving grace in their lives,” Chieko Noguchi, the executive director of public affairs at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said. “The Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God’s healing love and mercy in our lives.”

Photo Courtesy: ©RNS/AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist PressChristianity TodayThe Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Critics Say Pope Francis’ Approval of Blessings for Same-Sex Couples Is a ‘Theological Disaster’