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Papal scholar reflects on Pope Francis allowing Catholic priests to bless same-sex couples

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(NEW YORK) — Pope Francis stunned the Catholic world on Monday by making a tweak to the Vatican policy concerning same-sex couples.

Catholic priests can now bless those couples if they request it. However, the Church stressed it is not changing its views on marriage and that it believes it is between one man and one woman.

The Rev. James Martin, a scholar, editor at large for the Jesuit magazine America and ABC News contributor, spoke with “Start Here” Tuesday to discuss the new policy and how it changes the Catholic church’s longtime stance against recognizing LGBTQ unions.

START HERE: What was this decision from the Vatican?

THE REV. JAMES MARTIN: It was a decision to allow priests and deacons and bishops to bless same-sex couples in certain situations. You couldn’t make it seem like a marriage, of course, you couldn’t kind of have it as a kind of liturgical rite.

But people who are in same-sex unions who have been married, legally, let’s say they say, ‘Come to the park and do a little blessing for us outside,’ or, ‘Come to our house in the backyard,’ that’s a big deal.

And look, I could not do that publicly before. I was not permitted to do that, and now I am. So it’s a big shift. It’s a big shift in the way the Church looks at same-sex couples.

START HERE: I’m curious what this means for the future of same-sex marriage in the Catholic church, because you just said like, obviously this wouldn’t apply to marriage. But does this open a pathway to same-sex marriage among Catholics? Is that now part of the conversation?

MARTIN: Oh, meaning that the church says that a marriage is still for a man and a woman? So for people to be married in a church, or in a Catholic ceremony, you have to be a man and a woman. So that has not changed.

But before, you couldn’t even bless same-sex couples. As I said, I would have a hard time showing up in a collar and, you know, at someone’s garden party or barbecue or something even an informal blessing, that was a no-no.

So again, it’s a big step forward.

And I’ve been hearing from LGBTQ Catholics all day yesterday and they were very excited. So the proof’s in the pudding. They’re very excited and really gratified by this, an early Christmas present for them.

 START HERE: You’re an American priest. Often when we have these conversations, some of the most critical voices of this Pope have been American bishops who think Pope Francis is too progressive, too out of line. Like this bishop- Joseph Strickland in Texas, on a podcast earlier this year called “Pints with Aquinas”…very openly critical of Francis before this guy was later forced out of the church.

JOSEPH STRICKLAND, “PINTS WITH AQUINAS:” Living out the sexual relationship, it’s a very narrow path. It’s sort of the eye of the needle. It’s for a man and a woman, only. Committed for life, open to children.”

START HERE: So you’ve got this guy saying this pope is taking us down the wrong path. What is the response from American bishops? And will they just tell their priests, “You’re not allowed to do this?”

MARTIN: I think it changes the conversation more around same-sex couples, and what does it mean. Before, just two years ago, when this question was posed to the Vatican, the response was, believe it or not, ‘God cannot and does not bless sin.’ So no, you may do this not at all, ever.

But yesterday, in a declaration from the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is the kind of theological watchdog group, they set out a whole theology of what blessing was and said why we can do that.

And interestingly, the declaration did not say this depends on the local bishops’ conferences. It said that it’s up to the priests and ministers. There was a pretty muted response from the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, but really it opens the door for same-sex couples to go to their local priest and say, ‘Would you mind coming by my house with my family and doing a blessing?’ And now you can do it.

START HERE: Huh, so I mean, will you be planning on doing these blessings if someone asks you to bless their same-sex union, or would you take that on?

MARTIN: Absolutely. I mean, I’ve been waiting to do this for years. I couldn’t do it and I, I think it’s important to do these things with permission and not kind of step out of bounds too much, but the next couple that asks me, I’m happy to do it.

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