Taoiseach ‘very encouraged’ by Pope Francis’s declaration to allow priests bless same-sex couples

Ursula Halligan of We are Church group says declaration ‘a small step in the right direction’ but that conditions attached are ‘mean, stingy, and grudging’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he was “very encouraged” by Pope Francis’s declaration on Monday allowing priests to bless same-sex couples.

“While there is no change in doctrine, I really feel the pope’s pastoral approach is making the Church a warmer place for so many people who may have felt unwanted or excluded in the past,” the Taoiseach said.

Mr Varadkar said he was also “grateful for [the pope’s] leadership on the issues of war and climate change”.

Former president Mary McAleese felt that, while the declaration was “nowhere near enough”, it did signify “a massive climbdown by Pope Francis and the DDF [Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith]”.


Their comments followed publication by the Vatican on Monday of the declaration Fiducia supplicans, issued by the DDF and approved by Pope Francis, that “when two people request a blessing, even if their situation as a couple is `irregular’, it will be possible for the ordained minister to consent. However, this gesture of pastoral closeness must avoid any elements that remotely resemble a marriage rite.”

Ms McAleese described the declaration as “surely the biggest and hastiest change of teaching ever” in the Catholic Church, noting that in March 2021, the Vatican “banned such blessings in perpetuity because God, according to DDF, cannot bless sin, and gay married Catholics are, in its view, incapable of receiving or expressing God’s grace”. The language, she said, was “vile, homophobic and preposterous, but Francis freely signed it. There was uproar around the world and both Belgium and Germany moved to offer priestly blessings to gay married couples.”

Monday’s declaration was “not a complete U-turn”, she said. It was a case of Pope Francis “reluctantly and very tentatively following the lead of the wealthy German Church and the influential Belgian Church, both of whom have shown determination to face down outmoded, untenable Church teaching and practices which are draining the Church of its lifeblood… faithful people”.

Ursula Halligan of the We are Church group felt the declaration was “a small step in the right direction”, but was so circumscribed by conditions that it was “mean, stingy, and grudging” in ways that blessings from God would not be. Same-sex couples in committed loving relationships were expected to go “skulking around a corner” where a priest could offer a blessing. The Vatican, she said, “will keep tying itself in knots until it faces core issues around the person and human sexuality” and takes on board the insights of science, psychology and theology.

LGBT Ireland welcomed the declaration as a “step forward”, but felt “LGBTQI+ people are still not equal in the eyes of the Vatican, and the blessings come with many terms and conditions that effectively ‘other’ same-sex unions”. It hoped for “further moves to enact changes to fully welcome those members of the LGBTQI+ community who are interested into the Church”.

Theologian Gina Menzies noted how “the German Church has been doing these blessings for some time and some clergy here too”. Besides, “the Church has been blessing animals, houses, all sorts, for centuries”, she said.

The Association of Catholic Priests welcomed the declaration as “a major shift by the church in response to same-sex couples and to couples in irregular unions”. It commended “the bravery of Pope Francis.” Fr Tim Hazelwood, of the ACP leadership team, said it would be “a great relief and support to priests who are sensitive and supportive to the pastoral and spiritual needs of same-sex couples and couples in irregular unions”.

Fr Tony Flannery, co-founder of the ACP, was “very happy” at the declaration, which was consistent with the general approach of Pope Francis, “in that he constantly emphasises the pastoral rather than the dogmatic”. He noted how, increasingly, issues for which he himself had been removed from ministry in 2012 “are becoming official Church positions – and yet nobody in authority in the Church seems interested in doing anything about my situation”.

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times