The Vatican decreed today that the Catholic Church cannot give its blessing to same-sex unions because God 'cannot bless sin'.
Pope Francis signed off the two-page ruling which was published in seven languages by the Vatican's orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
It called on Catholic clergy to treat gay people with 'respect and sensitivity' but ruled that blessing their unions would 'approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognised as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God'.
The Vatican said Monday that the Catholic Church would not bless same-sex unions, in a combative statement approved by Pope Francis that threatens to widen the chasm between the church and much of the LGBTQ community. https://t.co/kcLCpbxe69— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) March 15, 2021
Francis last year caused controversy among Catholics by giving his backing to civil unions, but has never come out in favour of religious unions.
Monday's decree reiterated the Church's position that marriage between man and a woman is part of God's plan and is intended for the sake of creating new life.
It acknowledged that the wish to bless same-sex unions is 'not infrequently motivated by a sincere desire to welcome and accompany homosexual persons'.
But since their unions are not intended as part of God's plan, they cannot validly be blessed by the church, the document said.
'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,' the Vatican's ruling said.
God 'does not and cannot bless sin: He blesses sinful man, so that he may recognise that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him,' it said.
The document argued that the ruling is 'not intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite and of the very nature of the sacramentals, as the Church understands them'.
The Vatican said Francis was 'informed and gave his assent' to the ruling, which gave a verdict of 'negative' to the question of whether such unions could be blessed.
The remarks emerged last year in a documentary in which he also said: 'Homosexual people have the right to be in a family... they are children of God'.
My heart aches for all who are harmed by this. https://t.co/acfSrwPAai— Connie Schultz (@ConnieSchultz) March 15, 2021
The Vatican played down Francis's remarks at the time, saying they were taken out of context and referred to his position while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.
But it did not confirm or deny reports that it had ordered the sensitive remarks to be cut from the Mexican TV interview in which they were initially made in 2019.
Francis's words were hailed by admirers at the time as a 'major step forward in the church's support for LGBT people'.
However, there was also a chorus of anger from conservative Catholics who said they 'clearly contradict what has been the long-standing teaching of the church'.
Catholic teaching holds that gay people should be treated with respect but that homosexual acts are 'intrinsically disordered'.
A 2003 document from the Vatican's doctrine office - bearing the stamp of Francis's two immediate predecessors - said legal approval would mean the 'approval of deviant behaviour'.
'The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions,' it said.
Francis has frequently said that gay people should be accepted in their parishes and urged parents not to reject their children.
On his first foreign trip as pope, to Brazil in 2013, he said of gay people trying to live a Christian life: 'Who am I to judge?'.
Since then, he has ministered to gay people and transgender prostitutes, and welcomed people in same-sex partnerships into his inner circle.
In 2014, the Vatican denied reports that Francis had endorsed civil unions, and he took a more conservative tone in a book called On Heaven And Earth.
'Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity,' he said in criticism of adoption by gay couples.
He added that laws which equated same-sex relationships to marriages would be 'an anthropological regression'.
Francis has always voiced opposition to gay marriage, saying that marriage should only be between a man and woman.
'Marriage is a historic word,' he told French sociologist Dominique Wolton in a 2017 book of interviews. 'Always among human beings, and not only in the Church, it has been between a man and a woman. You can't just change that like that.'
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.