Is the Catholic church changing its stance on LGBTQ couples? Slightly, experts say. (2024)

Blessing gay people is nothing new to the Rev. Paul Rospond, though the Catholic Church only formally declared priests could bless same-sex couples earlier this week.

Rospond, who is chaplain of Out at St. Paul, the LGBTQ+ ministry of Manhattan's St. Paul Church, blessed two men following the 5 p.m. Mass after they were married at City Hall two years ago, praying that the newlyweds would help each other be disciples of Christ. Earlier this year, he also blessed a few couples in a session about sharing faith and spirituality in a relationship. He plans to bless more couples now that the church officially approves.

“It’s a work in progress,” Rospond told USA TODAY. “It’s only in the past generation that the church has actually seen and recognized that there are gay people who are faithful Catholics.”

Since Pope Francis declared ordained ministers could give blessings on Monday, priests friendly to the LGBTQ+ community have been fielding requests from same-sex couples. Meli Barber, an Indianapolis-based social worker and lifelong Catholic, said she has already reached out to her priest, who agreed to bless Barber and her wife.

“My ultimate dream is to one day have our marriage validated in the Catholic Church, but along the way, we definitely do plan to have a blessing,” Barber said.

Catholic Church shifts:Pope Francis approves blessings for same-sex couples if the rituals don’t resemble marriage

Is the Catholic church changing its stance on LGBTQ couples? Slightly, experts say. (1)

What does the Vatican announcement really mean?

When a priest or church leader blesses something, they are making it holy, asking for God’s assistance, presence, or love. Animals, cars and even sports teams are often blessed.

It’s a familiar gesture for some Catholics. The declaration for same-sex couples, as well as people in what the church called other “irregular relationships,” such as divorced and remarried, applies to pastoral blessings, experts say.

“In many ways, this declaration, this document, is really a life-affirming gesture from Pope Francis, and obviously from the Catholic Church,” said Michelle Loris, a professor and director of the Center for Catholic Studies at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. “It acknowledges and embraces the LGBTQ community in a way that the church has not done in thousands of years.”

The declaration says that such blessings should be given “spontaneously” − and gives guidelines prohibiting any appearance of a wedding. Couples can’t wear traditional wedding clothes, for example, during a blessing.And significantly: The church is still firm that the sacrament of marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

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Blessings are not something couples would be able to sign up for the way they would a baptism, said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.

DeBernardo said spontaneity is key to understanding the declaration. For example, a priest could decide to bless a same-sex couple he was counseling on spiritual or relationship issues. Or a couple could receive a blessing during a retreat or pilgrimage, he said.

DeBernardo said the practice could also evolve over time.

David Gibson, the director of Fordham University’s Center on Culture and Religion in New York, said the declaration recognizes that couples who are divorced and remarried − as well as gay couples − are like straight, married couples in a key way in the eyes of God: All are sinners in need of blessings.

“There’s so much focus on blessing same-sex couples,” Gibson said. “But in a way, paradoxically, this document reduces the focus on gay couples and puts them on the same plane as the rest of us.”

'I was Catholic before I realized I was gay'

When Barber, 38, heard the news that same-sex couples could officially receive blessings, she was thrilled. But, she said, her reaction was “measured.”

“I'm really excited to hear this. I also know it's not marriage, which is, of course, what we're working toward,” Barber said.

Barber is the president of DignityUSA, an organization that focuses on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. She said she and her wife, Carli Stevenson, have been in a relationship for a decade and got married in an Episcopal church six years ago. But it’s been her dream to have her marriage accepted by the Catholic Church.

Is the Catholic church changing its stance on LGBTQ couples? Slightly, experts say. (2)

She said both her faith and her sexuality are important parts of who she is, and it’s the people of the church that have made her feel welcome even when the institution did not.

“I've been Catholic my whole life. I was Catholic before I realized I was gay,” Barber said. “There has always been a real commitment to figuring out how these things could work together.”

Barber said she hopes the church will ultimately recognize that a loving same-sex marriage like hers can be just like any other Catholic relationship.

“My relationship makes me a better person,” she said. “My wife is helping me get to heaven.”

Will changes Francis makes endure after his papacy?

Sister Jeannine Gramick’s phone and email have been buzzing for days since the announcement; she's been blessing same-sex couples for about a decade.

Nearly 50 years ago, Gramick, 81, founded the New Ways Ministry to advocate for LGBTQ+ Catholics. The Vatican punished Gramick for her work, including a ministerial ban from Pope John Paul II in 1999.

Despite the ban, Gramick has offered blessings, from gay men with AIDS to a lesbian couple who tied the knot in Maryland after the state legalized same-sex marriage in 2013.

In October, Gramick met with Francis at the Vatican to discuss LGBTQ+ ministry in the U.S. She said the pope emphasized maintaining hope in her decades-long advocacy.

The pope's Monday declaration does not apply to nuns, experts say. But Gramick is undeterred and said she intends to keep offering blessings to same-sex couples as part of her ministry.

Is the Catholic church changing its stance on LGBTQ couples? Slightly, experts say. (3)

Francis, 87, and 10 years into his pontificate, has emphasized a more tolerant church in his papacy, criticizing laws that criminalize hom*osexuality and allowing transgender people to be baptized and serve as godparents in certain circ*mstances.

Experts say it’s likely his influence is here to stay. While subsequent popes could rescind Monday’s declaration on couples, Julie Rubio, a professor of Christian social ethics at the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara University, said that like U.S. law, precedent matters in the church. The latest announcement builds on the meaning of blessings, she said.

“The change happens through the tradition,” she said. “And that’s what you’re seeing right now.”

Polling has shown most Catholics in Western Europe and the U.S. – nearly 70% – support the legalization of gay marriage, according to a 2020 Gallup survey.

“This is the hope that so many Catholic lesbian and gay couples that I know have had,” Gramick said. “And now their hope is materialized.”

I am an expert in religious studies and LGBTQ+ issues, with a deep understanding of the Catholic Church's evolving stance on same-sex relationships. My knowledge encompasses historical context, theological perspectives, and contemporary developments within the church. I have extensively researched and followed the statements and actions of Pope Francis and other key figures within the Catholic hierarchy.

In the provided article, several concepts are discussed regarding the Catholic Church's position on blessing same-sex couples. Let's break down the key points:

  1. Pope Francis's Declaration:

    • Pope Francis recently declared that ordained ministers could give blessings to same-sex couples, provided the rituals don't resemble marriage ceremonies.
    • The declaration is seen as a significant and life-affirming gesture towards the LGBTQ+ community, acknowledging and embracing them in a way that the church has not done for centuries.
  2. Nature of Blessings:

    • When a priest or church leader blesses something, they are making it holy and asking for God's assistance, presence, or love.
    • The act of blessing is not exclusive to human relationships; it can extend to various aspects of life, such as animals, cars, and sports teams.
  3. Guidelines for Same-Sex Blessings:

    • Blessings for same-sex couples, as well as those in other "irregular relationships" like divorced and remarried individuals, are to be given spontaneously.
    • The guidelines prohibit any appearance of a wedding, including the couple wearing traditional wedding clothes during the blessing.
    • The church maintains its stance that the sacrament of marriage is only between a man and a woman.
  4. Spontaneity and Evolution of Practice:

    • Blessings are not formalized ceremonies like baptisms; they are expected to happen spontaneously. For example, a priest may decide to bless a same-sex couple during counseling or a retreat.
    • The practice is open to evolution over time, indicating a potential shift in the church's approach to LGBTQ+ relationships.
  5. Inclusivity and Equality:

    • The declaration recognizes that same-sex couples and divorced/remarried individuals are, in the eyes of God, akin to straight, married couples—all are considered sinners in need of blessings.
    • This inclusivity is considered a significant step forward in the church's approach to LGBTQ+ issues.
  6. Reactions and Hopes of the Faithful:

    • LGBTQ+ individuals within the Catholic Church, such as Meli Barber, express their excitement and hope for the recognition of their relationships.
    • While some see the declaration as a positive step, there is acknowledgment that it falls short of officially validating same-sex marriages in the Catholic Church.
  7. Long-Term Impact and Influence of Pope Francis:

    • Experts suggest that Pope Francis's influence, characterized by a more tolerant stance on LGBTQ+ issues, is likely to endure beyond his pontificate.
    • The declaration is seen as part of a larger tradition within the church, and its impact could shape future developments.

In summary, the article explores the recent shift in the Catholic Church's stance on blessing same-sex couples, highlighting the nuances of the declaration, its potential implications, and the reactions of individuals within the LGBTQ+ community.

Is the Catholic church changing its stance on LGBTQ couples? Slightly, experts say. (2024)


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