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Pope Francis approved: Catholic priests may now bless same-sex couples

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

All right. Major news out of the Vatican today. The church has issued a document, when approved by Pope Francis, that says priests may bless same-sex couples. Joining us now to talk about this is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Hey, Jason.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: OK. so this is a huge shift for the Catholic Church, right? Like, what does this new document actually say?

DEROSE: Well, let's start with the name of the declaration. It's called Fiducia Supplicans, which is Latin for Supplicating Trust. It's about what it means to ask for something in a trusting way. The declaration says that priests may bless same-sex couples that come to them asking for a blessing. It says. People ask for all sorts of blessings in their lives - blessings for safe travel, good health for abundant crops, and that couples in relationships might seek a blessing in that way. It says, quote, "the world needs blessings. We can give blessings and receive blessings."

The document is also clear that this blessing is on the couple and not on the union itself, and that this blessing in no way should be understood as a marriage, which is a sacrament. In fact, it reiterates the church teaching that marriage is a, quote, "exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children."

CHANG: OK. I'm so confused. So what is allowed under this document and what is not allowed then?

DEROSE: Well, the declaration goes into more detail on what's not allowed than what is allowed. Anything that resembles the words of the marriage right are not allowed. This blessing, should a priest agree to do it, should not be done in the context of a worship service, a Catholic Mass, and it should not be done as part of a civil ceremony, such as a priest being present at a courthouse wedding or a backyard wedding. Now, what that suggests is something more private, perhaps a small gathering at the couple's home or in the priest's office. And the document says the church should not develop a formal script or liturgy for these blessings.

CHANG: OK. So can we just step back then? How does all of this change the teachings of the Catholic Church when it comes to LGBTQ+ individuals?

DEROSE: Well, that's a good question, I'll say. It's clear that this, in some formal way, changes the approach of the church. Blessing same-sex couples has been prohibited. Now it's allowed. But what this does not do is change the church's teaching on homosexuality. The church still teaches that same-sex sexual attraction is, quote, "intrinsically disordered," and that sexual relations between two men or two women is a grave sin. Now, that seems contradictory to say, given this new document. But what's clearly going on here is a very public evolution of the church's thinking, an evolution that might give gay, lesbian and bisexual Catholics hope. And it might bring them closer to the church, rather than always feeling rejected by their religion.

CHANG: Well, then, how does this evolution, as you put it, fit into the overall context of Pope Francis's time as pope?

DEROSE: Well, it's been clear since the start over a decade ago that Francis has been more open to change than many previous popes, maybe only comparable to the massive changes that took place in the 1960s during Vatican II. Francis has repeatedly said the church needs to be more open, more loving, less rule bound. Remember, early in his papacy, he was asked about same-sex couples. And he said, who am I to judge? That openness on this issue and other issues, such as divorced Catholics or transgender Catholics, has helped make Francis extremely popular, especially with younger folks. At the same time, we've also seen some conservative Catholic bishops and cardinals being openly critical of Francis, even saying his changes are leading people away from the true faith.

CHANG: That is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Thank you, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.