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The Vatican Has Announced The Church 'Cannot' Bless Same-Sex Unions

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today the Vatican dashed any recent hopes of LGBTQ Catholics that their church might approve same-sex unions. Some bishops had been pushing to give those unions - to have those unions receive church blessings. To those ideas, the Vatican gave a definitive one-word response - negative. Joining us now is NPR's Tom Gjelten.

Hey, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That's quite a response. One word, which - surely a disappointing response for supporters of LGBTQ rights. But it can't be that surprising, no? I mean, we've known for a long time the Catholic Church has opposed same-sex marriage.

GJELTEN: You're right. It's not a surprise. It is a disappointment to LGBTQ people and those who support them. Given some of the things that Pope Francis himself has said in the past, in contrast to his predecessors, he's been more embracing of LGBTQ people. Remember, Mary Louise; he famously said, who am I to judge? And then last fall we heard about some statements Francis had made suggesting that same-sex civil unions - not marriage but civil unions - were OK, that LGBTQ people deserve to be in a family relationship and that LGBTQ couples deserve some legal protections.

Those statements, which came out in a film that's going to be released this month, raised hopes that he was preparing the church to approve of same-sex marriage. But the Vatican statement today actually reiterated its view that homosexual behavior is sinful and that God cannot bless sin.

KELLY: I'm trying to reconcile that Vatican statement, that homosexual behavior is considered sinful by the church, with what the pope himself - you just told us what he's actually said.

GJELTEN: Well, it's important to understand that a pope - and any pope - cannot by himself change church doctrine. That requires action by what's called the magisterium, which is the pope and the bishops who make up the teaching body of the church. Also, there are some distinctions here, for example, between LGBTQ people as individuals, who can be welcomed into the church, and their unions, which are not welcome. There's also a distinction between a secular view of same-sex unions and a religious view. When the pope suggested that civil unions are OK, he was essentially offering a secular endorsement. Blessing those unions - that would be a religious endorsement.

KELLY: What has been the reaction to this statement from the Vatican?

GJELTEN: Well, the reaction to the statement from Marianne Duddy-Burke, who is the executive director of an organization of pro-LGBTQ Catholics, was - last October, Mary Louise, she told me that the pope's statements were a potential game-changer for gay and lesbian people. Today she said this new statement is a huge disappointment and also very hurtful.

MARIANNE DUDDY-BURKE: Particularly the line about God does not and cannot bless sin, which seems kind of like a gratuitous attack on the LGBTQ community.

GJELTEN: And more conservative people, on the other hand, were reassured. They had worried that some Catholics might have been confused by the pope's statements.

KELLY: If you are part of the LGBTQ community and you are also Catholic, where does this decision leave you?

GJELTEN: Well, what's clear is that the church is way behind the Catholic people on this. Polls show a large majority of Catholics approve of same-sex marriage. Marianne Duddy-Burke of DignityUSA told me the way forward rests with the Catholic people.

DUDDY-BURKE: They are the ones giving us the blessings that the Vatican is trying to withhold. They are supporting us. They're affirming us. They're welcoming us into the family embrace. They celebrate at our weddings. To me, that is where the hope lies.

GJELTEN: And you know, Mary Louise, as we've long known, the Catholic Church is very slow to change.

KELLY: Thank you, Tom.

GJELTEN: You bet.

KELLY: NPR's Tom Gjelten. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.