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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Let the Blessings Flow: Pope Francis and Gay and Lesbian Couples

Pope Francis_Vatican The AP Interview Pope Francis LGBTQ_Photo by Andrew Medichini_Associated Press_January 24, 2023

Pope Francis_Vatican The AP Interview Pope Francis LGBTQ_Photo by Andrew Medichini_Associated Press_January 24, 2023

David E. DeCosse

Andrew Medichini/Associated Press

David DeCosse (@daviddecosse) is the director of religious and Catholic ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and is a regular commentator at National Catholic Reporter. Views are his own. A different version of this essay first appeared in the Catholic Agitator, the newspaper of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, and is republished with permission. 


In his 2016 document on the family called “The Joy of Love,” Pope Francis said: “We put so many conditions on mercy that we empty it of its concrete meaning and real significance.”

Pope Francis’ comment recalled time I’ve spent working at a Catholic Worker soup kitchen on Skid Row in Los Angeles. We heard so often from the ambient culture why we shouldn’t practice the works of mercy (like feeding the hungry) because the people whom we were honored to serve at the soup kitchen were unworthy, lazy, addicted, getting over on us, whatever. It’s easy to hear today even worse being said about migrants. But more on all of that in a moment.

For now, it’s important to note that the best lens by which to understand the widely-noted December 2023 statement (in Latin called “Fiducia Supplicans”) from the Vatican authorizing Catholic priests to bless gay and lesbian couples is that it’s time to take the shackles off the gift of the greatest manifestation of divine power: God’s mercy.

That is not the way the opponents of the Vatican directive on blessing gay and lesbian unions see the matter. For them what is at stake is the truth of Catholic marriage, which is understood as only being possible between a man and a woman and not two persons of the same sex. To bless gay or lesbian couples, as these opponents see it, would confuse or contradict this truth.

But, in keeping with the vision of Pope Francis, the Vatican document on blessing steps back and takes a much bigger view. First, it says that what is at stake is the greatest truth of all: God’s infinite mercy and the role of the Church in conveying that mercy to any human being, no matter the circumstances of their lives.

Moreover, the “mercy” at stake here isn’t some trite kindness. Nor is it something we can earn. We can’t parcel it out only to the deserving according to conditions we establish from perches far removed from the messiness of life. Instead, mercy is the divine power to transform evil into good – a power that is offered to every person and that extends to every dimension of human life.

Out of this ocean of mercy many kinds of blessings flow. The Vatican document takes pains to note that the blessing envisioned for gay and lesbian couples is not one that should be understood as a blessing appropriate to marriage (though I look forward to the day when that might be so).

But the document enumerates many other occasions for blessings that the people of God seek for the trials and joys of life – a gay or lesbian couple in a hushed conversation with a priest after mass; our unhoused brothers and sisters at a makeshift shrine on a city street; migrants with bowed heads before a mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Such blessings, the document says, might seek no more and no less than “to open one’s life to God, to ask for his help to live better, and also to invoke the Holy Spirit so that the values of the Gospel may be lived with greater faithfulness.” Everyone – and their partner – can get in line for the gift.

Catholic sacraments are beautiful things. But the document invites us to look at the sacramental nature of our lives outside of the specific liturgical settings of any of the seven sacraments. The myriad practices of popular religion – like blessings of every different kind – help us to see the divine presence in a thousand faces and in a thousand things.

Finally, we might consider how the Catholic Worker movement prizes voluntary poverty because it believes that such poverty enables one to see the divine abundance. Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement, articulated this vision when she said: “Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.” So let the blessings flow – on gay and lesbian couples, on soup kitchen denizens and migrants in search of a better life, on every hungry heart that longs for the touch of divine mercy.


Apr 1, 2024

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