LGBTQ Catholics worry that Pope Francis’ decree on same-sex unions could drive more away from the church

Pope Francis listens to Philippine Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle (not pictured) during a mass to mark 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, March 14, 2021. T
Pope Francis at a Mass in March 2021. Tiziana Fabi/Pool via REUTERS
  • The Vatican said on Monday that Catholic priests can’t bless same-sex unions.
  • LGBTQ Catholics and advocates told Insider the decree was “deeply saddening.”
  • The Vatican statement said same-sex unions can’t be blessed because God “cannot bless sin.”
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

LGBTQ Catholics and advocates criticized the Vatican’s decree barring blessings for same-sex unions on Monday, saying the statement may drive some further away from the church.

The Vatican’s statement, which was approved by Pope Francis and issued on Monday, said that Catholic priests can’t bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”

“The blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit,” said the Vatican statement. “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”

The decree was released by the church’s orthodoxy office in response to a question about same-sex unions.

But members of the Catholic LGBTQ community and theology experts told Insider that the decree is unhelpful to the church’s ever-evolving congregation.

“Any time a statement like this comes out, it really severs the relationship with the church for a lot of LGBTQ+ people, but also for our family members and friends who have struggled for so long with the church’s rejection of their loved ones,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive editor of Dignity USA, an organization focused on LGBTQ rights and the Catholic Church, told Insider.

She called the statement “deeply saddening and hurtful.”

Pope Francis was seen in a documentary supporting civil unions. The Vatican said his quotes were out of context

Bernie Schlager, executive director for The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion, told Insider that Francis has been more positive to the LGBTQ community than any pope before him, but the Vatican has “come down very clearly” to say that same-sex unions are a sin.

He added that it would have been “utterly remarkable” if the Vatican voiced approval for same-sex unions.

“The fact of the matter is, Catholic doctrine, as it is set out in the most recent version of the catechism, is very clear on the topic,” he said.

Last October, a documentary titled “Francesco” featured a previously unseen interview in which Pope Francis voiced support for same-sex unions.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” Pope Francis said of same-sex couples.

The Vatican later said the pope’s comments were taken out of context.

“More than a year ago, during an interview, Pope Francis answered two different questions at two different times that, in the aforementioned documentary, were edited and published as a single answer without the proper contextualization, which has led to confusion,” the Vatican’s Secretariat of State said in a letter sent to papal representatives from around the world.

The latest decree issued this week appeared to cement the Vatican’s beliefs that same-sex unions will not be blessed within Catholic Church.

The Vatican is at a crossroads when it comes to LGBTQ members

But Fr. Bryan Massingale, a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, told Insider that the decree shows that the Vatican is at a crossroads.

“It wants to welcome gay and lesbian people as individuals, but does not want to extend any form of recognition to same-sex relationships within the Church,” he said. “It wants to show a compassionate face to gay and lesbian persons, but in ways that do not entail any change in official sexual beliefs.”

He said that the Vatican’s decree pleases no one, and is “disappointing, but not surprising.”

“My view is that as long as the Church (a) says that gays and lesbians have fundamental human dignity that must be protected in society; and (b) that gays and lesbians must be treated respectfully and compassionately in the Church; and (c) that same-sex relationships have positive elements that are valued and appreciated, then conversations will continue about how to support persons whose relationships make a positive contribution to their lives and in society,” Massingale said.

According to a Pew Research survey published in 2020, the majority of Catholics do support same-sex marriage, even if the Vatican has not outwardly supported such unions.

JR Zerkowski, the executive director of the Fortunate Families, a Catholic ministry for LGBTQ families and friends, called LGBTQ members of the Catholic Church “heroic.”

“I think it’s challenging and downright heroic for LGBTQ Catholics to remain in the church and work for change,” he said. “Their faith is some of the most incredible faith that puts my faith to shame.”

He warned that the Vatican’s latest decree could force people to walk away.

“If they do that and their voices are not heard in the church, their lived reality is not shared with the leaders of the church,” he said. “And if this conversation does not go on, and these conversations end, we will be a poorer church. We will be a church that has not listened to the people of God.

Schlager told that in many local parishes, Catholics have welcomed LGBTQ members, but it will be a “long time” before those actions are accepted by the Vatican.

“Catholics will continue to seek out those parishes that are welcoming of people, and there is hope,” he said. “We have to take the long view, right? From an institution that’s 2,000 years old, pastors, religious leaders, and theologians are paving the way for the change that I believe one day will come. So I’m an optimist.”

He said, however, that it could be decades before any change is seen.

“I don’t think I’ll see it in my lifetime, and I’m 60 years old. I doubt my children will see it. I’m not really convinced my grandchildren will see it,” he said.