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The Vatican declares same-sex unions cannot be blessed by the church: Why this is loving and gracious

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Pope Francis celebrates mass on the occasion of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 14, 2021
Pope Francis celebrates mass on the occasion of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines, in St. Peter's Basilica, at the Vatican, Sunday, March 14, 2021. (Tiziana Fabi/Pool photo via AP)

The Vatican’s orthodoxy office, in conjunction with Pope Francis, made news on Monday after publishing an official report in which they declared that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions. 

It is one of the strongest statements from the Church in recent years on the issue of homosexuality and clarifies what had begun to be seen by some as a gray area in the Church’s official stance. And it comes at a time when many dioceses around the world are grappling with the issue with a greater openness to extending that blessing to same-sex couples than ever before.

As the Associated Press Nicole Winfield notes, even after the report came out there were some who continue to question the position. Francis DeBernardo serves as the executive director for New Ways Ministry and said of the report’s instruction, “Catholic people recognize the holiness of the love between committed same-sex couples and recognize this love as divinely inspired and divinely supported and thus meets the standard to be blessed.”

For the Church’s part, the official statement makes clear that “the presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator’s plan.” It goes on to state that God “does not and cannot bless sin” though he does bless “sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him.” 

At the same time, the Church reiterated its stance that individuals with a homosexual orientation are still welcome and are to be treated with the same respect due to all those made in the image of God. Homosexual activity and unions stand outside of God’s blessing, but those involved in them do not stand outside his grace and love. 

It’s a balance that strikes hollow for those who seek a more official and uniform blessing of LGBTQ activity, but it remains the stance most in line with the teachings of Scripture and the example of Jesus. 

What is the Catholic Church prioritizing in its decision?

For more on why this approach of offering love and grace for the sinner while refusing to bless or condone their sin is correct, please see Dr. Denison’s “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?” 

For today, I’d like to focus instead on what we can learn from the Catholic Church’s approach and the response to it from those who disagree with the Church’s stance. 

Ultimately, it comes down to priorities. 

If the top priority is avoiding a fight or keeping LGBTQ-affirming people engaged (at least for a time) in the Church, then compromising on this issue, or simply leaving it up to each individual diocese, would have been the simplest and most efficient approach. 

However, the Vatican chose to release an official statement that clearly declares such an approach to be wrong. This demonstrates that their top priority is helping individuals who are either affirming of that lifestyle, or actively engaged in it, find the grace and freedom that can only come from living in accordance with God’s will. 

It may not—and likely will not—initially sound like grace to those who disagree with Scripture on this subject, but that’s to be expected. 

After all, it’s human nature to want God to bless our desires instead of his when they stand in opposition to one another, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. But for a blessing to have any power or influence, it must come from the Lord. 

That’s why the biblical understanding of marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman, as well as the condemnation of any sexual activity outside of that relationship, represents the only approach we can take toward issues of sexuality that is truly loving and gracious. 

Even if the world doesn’t see it that way, God does. 

Will you?