Gay rights groups celebrate Pope Francis’s ‘early Christmas gift’ to LGBTQ+ couples

Pope Francis

Gay rights groups are celebrating after Pope Francis confirmed that same-sex couples can be blessed by Roman Catholic priests, as an “early Christmas gift” for the LGBTQ+ community.

The landmark declaration from the Vatican discourages priests from preventing or prohibiting “the church’s closeness to people in every situation in which they might seek God’s help through a simple blessing.”

Through this declaration, signed by Pope Francis, same-sex couples can now have their unions blessed by the church – through the blessings may not resemble a marriage rite and will not legitimise same-sex relationships in the church’s view.

Pope Francis has given conditional approval to same-sex blessings. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

While LGBTQ+ rights within the church are far from perfect, this Vatican ruling is the latest in a number of changes made by Pope Francis, who turned 87 on Sunday (17 December), to make religion more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people since he was elected head of the Catholic church in 2013.

Reacting to the Vatican’s move to allow priests to bless same-sex couples, LGBTQ+ advocate groups celebrated the new milestone.

Sarah Kate Ellis, the President and CEO of the non-profit LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation GLAAD commented: “By removing barriers to priests blessing LGBTQ couples, the Pope accurately recognizes that LGBTQ people and our relationships are worthy of the same affirmation and support in the Church, and this strengthens couples in their faith and to the community. 

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“This is the latest in a historic pattern of actions and announcements from Pope Francis which show that LGBTQ people should not be used as a dividing issue, and we are worthy of love, respect, and compassion.”

New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for LGBTQ+ Catholics also commended Pope Francis for his “significant” declaration.

Pope Francis smiles while giving a thumbs up
Gay rights groups have praised Pope Francis after he confirmed that same-sex unions could be blessed by the Catholic church. (Antonio Cotrim – Pool/Getty Images)

The ministry’s executive director Francis DeBernardo said in a statement: “Approving blessings for same-gender couples is certainly monumental. 

“But Pope Francis goes further than that by stating that people should not be subjected to ‘an exhaustive moral analysis’ to receive a sign of God’s love and mercy. 

“Such a declaration is one more step Pope Francis has taken to overturn the harsh policing of pastoral care all too common under his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. …LGBTQ+ Catholics worldwide welcome this early Christmas gift, which brings them much closer to being full and equal members of the Church they love so dearly.”

Pope Francis has shown repeatedly that he is in favour of the Catholic Church’s acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, regularly introducing new ways to include and support them as a community.

For example, in November, he met with a group of trans women for lunch, which followed on from him saying that, trans people may be baptised and act as godparents or witnesses to marriage just like any other adult.

Back in September, he published a response to five cardinals who asked him about his intentions to bless same-sex unions. 

In his response, Pope Francis made it clear that the church still recognises marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but same-sex unions should have the opportunity to be blessed.