Same-sex unions can now be blessed in the Catholic Church? No

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: 

On December 18, 2023, His Eminence Víctor Manuel Cardinal Fernández, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Faith, issued a Declaration, Fiducia Supplicans, On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings. Some people have misinterpreted this Declaration to mean that same-sex unions can now be blessed in the Catholic Church. The resulting confusion and consternation among the laity, clergy, and even the hierarchy, prompted Cardinal Fernández to issue a clarification on January 4, 2024. Since many questions remain after publication of the Declaration and subsequent clarifications, I have sent an instruction to our priests and deacons regarding the proper interpretation and implementation of blessings in our diocese. In his clarification of January 4, 2024, Cardinal Fernández acknowledged the proper role of the local bishop in dealing with these matters, saying, “Each local Bishop, by virtue of his own ministry, always has the power of discernment in loco, that is, in that concrete place that he knows better than others precisely because it is his own flock.” 

To summarize the key points of my instruction, a “blessing” is often understood in popular parlance to be an expression of approval, as when a man asks for the parental blessing for the proposal of marriage to their daughter. As the Declaration on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings points out, a blessing in the liturgical or pastoral sense has a very different meaning. In this regard, the Declaration quotes (in par. 10) the Book of Blessings, which says that “the formulas of blessing are primarily aimed at giving glory to God for his gifts, asking for his favors, and restraining the power of evil in the world.”

The Declaration notes (in par. 11) that “it is necessary that what is blessed corresponds with God’s designs written in creation and fully revealed by Christ the Lord. For this reason, 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.” In an age and culture in which the cohabitation of unmarried heterosexual couples as well as same-sex couples is not recognized as gravely sinful, any action of the Church, whether liturgical or not, which seems to give ecclesial approval to such behavior is both scandalous and confusing and must therefore be avoided. 

The Declaration says (in paragraphs 38-39) that clergy “should neither provide for nor promote a ritual for the blessings of couples in an irregular situation. At the same time, one should not prevent or prohibit the Church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing. In a brief prayer preceding this spontaneous blessing, the ordained minister could ask that the individuals have peace, health, a spirit of patience, dialogue, and mutual assistance-but also God’s light and strength to be able to fulfill his will completely. In any case, precisely to avoid any form of confusion or scandal, when the prayer of blessing is requested by a couple in an irregular situation, even though it is expressed outside the rites prescribed by the liturgical books, this blessing should never be imparted in concurrence with the ceremonies of a civil union, and not even in connection with them. Nor can it be performed with any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding. The same applies when the blessing is requested by a same-sex couple.” The cleric imparting the blessing must make clear that he is not blessing the irregular relationship itself, but is blessing the individuals who seek to live a life of good morals and integrity.

Therefore, when asked for a blessing by a person or persons who may be living in an irregular heterosexual relationship (e.g., cohabiting without marriage) or those in a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex, a suggested informal prayer may be something along the lines of, “May God bless you and give you the grace to turn from sin and live in accord with His divine law.” Cardinal Fernández has offered his own suggested wording for a “spontaneous blessing that does not condone the illicit relationship or sinful actions of the couple, but prays for their conversion to live in accord with God’s law,” saying that “the priest can recite a simple prayer like this: ‘Lord, look at these children of yours, grant them health, work, peace and mutual help. Free them from everything that contradicts your Gospel and allow them to live according to your will. Amen.’ Then it concludes with the sign of the cross on each of the two persons.”

The efficacy of sacramentals such as a blessing is dependent on the spiritual disposition of the person making use of the sacramental. Persons living an immoral life who have no intention to repent and turn away from their sins will not be helped by a blessing. On the other hand, persons living an immoral life who truly desire to turn from their sinful ways will be helped immensely by God’s grace imparted in a blessing.

Persons with same-sex attraction are encouraged to take part in the apostolate of Courage International, an organization of men and women who experience same-sex attraction and who have made a commitment to strive for chastity. The chaplain of the Courage Apostolate in our diocese is Father Jim Isaacson, Pastor of St. Katherine Drexel Parish in Springfield. He can be reached confidentially through the parish office at (217) 523-4501 or by email at Through the Courage apostolate, people who experience same-sex attraction receive pastoral support in the form of spiritual guidance, community prayer, support, and fellowship. They are inspired by the Gospel call to holiness and the Catholic Church’s beautiful teachings about the goodness and inherent purpose of human sexuality.May God give us this grace. Amen.