Critics are lambasting Pope Francis, the notoriously left-wing leader of the Catholic Church, for seeming to have opened the door to legitimizing gay marriages in the church by suggesting that same-sex unions could receive “blessings” from church officials.
The pontiff, who has been accused of being an extreme liberal, was responding in his July 11 letter to questions from five cardinals, in which he seemed to send mixed signals about gay unions.
The five cardinals from Asia, Europe, Africa, the United States, and Latin America, sought to have the pope clarify the church’s stance on the issue.
In the letter released on Monday, Francis reiterated that “God cannot bless sin,” which would seem to be the traditional stance in opposition to homosexuality, which the church has always deemed as sinful. But he then went on to offer a caveat that has alarmed conservative Catholics.
“We cannot be judges who only deny, reject, and exclude,” Francis said in the letter that seemed to be an about-face from a 2021 letter in which he said the church “cannot bless sin.”
Francis wrote that the church has a “very clear conception of marriage: an exclusive, stable and indissoluble union between a man and a woman, naturally open to begetting children,” the Washington Times reported.
But he then contradicted that stance to a degree.
Francis insisted that there may be a way to bless people who are not exactly living a life in keeping with Vatican policy.
He wrote that there may be “forms of blessing, requested by one or more persons” that could be granted on occasion, NBC News reported.
Francis asked the clergy to show “pastoral charity,” as well as “kindness, patience, understanding, tenderness, and encouragement.”
“Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or several people, that do not transmit a wrong conception of marriage,” Francis continued.
“When you ask for a blessing, you are expressing a request for help from God, a prayer to be able to live better, a trust in a Father who can help us live better.”
He then quixotically noted that blessing such unions “do not convey a mistaken concept of marriage” and insisted that such blessing “should not necessarily become a norm.”
The pope did not exactly explain how the church can bless such unions yet still not be legitimizing them and opposing at the same time.
The cardinals who wrote the initial letter asking for guidance — all of whom are considered conservative leaders — include Walter Brandmueller of Germany, Raymond Burke of the United States, Juan Sandoval of Mexico, Robert Sarah of Guinea, Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong.
Naturally, gay activists celebrated the pope’s response to the five church leaders.
“Though the Vatican’s latest statement about same-gender couples does not provide a full-fledged, ringing endorsement of blessing their unions, the document significantly advances Pope Francis’ work to include and affirm LGBTQ+ people,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of LGBT activist New Ways Ministry.
DeBernardoo added that the pope’s words imply “that the church does indeed recognize that holy love can exist between same-gender couples,” he said, adding that it could be “one big straw towards breaking the camel’s back of the marginalized treatment LGBTQ+ people experience in the Church.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBT organization DignityUSA, was also thrilled with the pope’s statements.
“Anything that shows that our church recognizes the sacredness that exists in love between members of same-sex couples is a tremendous step forward,” Duddy-Burke told the Washington Times. “And [it] will give LGBTQ people and families lots of reasons to rejoice.”
But others were alarmed by the pope’s apparent nod to legitimizing gays in the church.
Frank Pavone, president of Priests for Life, blasted Francis for mincing around on “technicalities.”
“When people come away from us, there should not be question marks in their minds and hearts about what the faith means, but rather exclamation points in their minds leading them to live and proclaim it,” Pavone said.
“What Pope Francis and his theologians want to ‘study’ or say is not my responsibility,” he added. “However, I will fulfill my responsibility, just as so many parents fulfill their responsibilities as they pass on the faith to their children, to clearly uphold the Gospel of Christ without confusion.”
Francis has already earned condemnation in 2020 for supporting secular government action towards legalizing same-sex unions, when he said, “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family.”
The pope was also blasted this year for saying secular laws outlawing homosexuality are “unjust.” He added that “Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” and urged world governments to embrace the LGBT agenda.
Francis also claimed that church leaders who oppose homosexuality need to “have a process of conversion” to accept gays and apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
The pope has done everything he can to ease criticism and opposition for gays among church leaders, even as he still claims the church opposes homosexuality as a “sin.” With the letter written by the five conservative cardinals, he had the opportunity to directly reaffirm the church’s stance against the gay agenda. But he did all he could to avoid doing so.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.