The declaration ‘On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings’ (‘Fiducia Supplicans’) was recently issued by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of Faith. It speaks about same-sex couples receiving a blessing and has been the subject of a good deal of media attention. Headlines such as ‘Pope says Roman Catholic priests can bless same-sex couples’ (BBC) might suggest a shift in Church doctrine or imply the introduction of more formal blessings similar to those announced by the Church of England. Aimed at all staff who teach RSHE, this article aims to clarify what the recent Vatican declaration is saying.

In essence, the declaration says that a same-sex couple could, under specific circumstances, receive an informal blessing from a priest. However, most commentators have understood this to mean that each individual within the couple could receive a blessing and the Pope has recently indicated this too:

When a couple spontaneously comes forward to request [these blessings], it’s not the union that is blessed, but simply the persons who together made the request. Not the union, but the persons, naturally taking account of the context, the sensibilities, and the places in which one lives, and the most appropriate way of doing it…

Pope Francis

Address to members of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, 26 Jan 2024

What are the two key insights for staff teaching or leading RSHE?

The first aspect of the declaration worth noting is that it has not introduced a change to church doctrine. It says that marriage is ‘a union between a man and a woman, naturally open to the generation of children’ and that sex belongs in that context. Because of this, the declaration speaks of blessing those who ‘recognising themselves to be in need of God’s help – do not claim a legitimation of their own status.’ For this reason, it says these blessings should be spontaneous and not be expressed in any kind of liturgical rite or be given in association with a same-sex marriage or civil partnership.

The second insight into the declaration is the way it brings a new understanding of the meaning of ‘blessings’. The intention is to encourage priests to bless in a non-liturgical, non-formal way all those who are seeking to draw closer to God in their lives, and this includes couples whatever their sexuality who may be in situations that fall outside of what is approved by the Church – such as a divorced and remarried couple, or those in a same-sex relationship. The document is at pains to explain that these kinds of blessing should not be understood as an approval or affirmation of non-marital sexual relationships, as understood by the Church, but rather as a help to those individuals to move a step closer to God. This brings to mind the idea of accompaniment, meaning patiently walking with someone to help them move closer to God and the sacramental life of the Church.

This idea was summed up by Pope Francis when he spoke about the declaration in response to questions from priests in Rome: He said:

The Lord blesses everyone who is capable of being baptised, that is, every person… But we are to take them by the hand and help them go down that road, not condemn them from the beginning. And this is the pastoral work of the Church.

Address to members of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, 26 Jan 2024

How Life to the Full discusses same-sex relationships

Our approach within the Life to the Full primary and secondary programmes coincides with that of Pope Francis as we seek to reach young people where they are at, while inviting them to draw closer to God. You can see how we cover different family models, same-sex relationships and more by looking at the Guidance on Protected Characteristics document. This can be found on the Programme Co-ordinator’s page (Life to the Full Primary | Life to the Full Plus | Life to the Full Secondary).