As a devout gay Catholic, I was very pleased with the decision of Pope Francis that same-sex relationships may be blessed. I was at work the day it was announced and, when I saw the news feed, I became emotional and had to step away from my patient and go in private as my eyes filled with tears.  It was an affirmation from my Church, through Pope Francis, that who I am and whom I love is worthy of being blessed. I’ve known this in my heart for years but to finally hear it from my Church was beautiful.  Love, true love, is always a blessing.  For a group that has been wounded and often marginalized by many religious faiths, I believe Pope Francis was led by the Holy Spirit.  He recognized those sheep left outside the gate and chose to give them a nod of acknowledgment.  It is indeed a step forward!

On the day this declaration was announced, I experienced more love and support from my fellow Catholics and, from those of other faiths as they sent me kind words in response to this step forward. The outpouring from such a variety of people (gay, straight, young, old, allies, co-workers, neighbors, etc) was truly overwhelming. 

Clearly the Vatican declaration does not in any way overturn the Catholic church’s doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman.  It does not allow the church’s ordained ministers to officiate at same-sex marriages. The blessing cannot be given during any formal ceremony.  That said, as Cardinal Blase Cupich, a close supporter of Pope Francis, said, “This declaration…will help many more in our community feel the closeness and compassion of God.” The Vatican policy notes that people seeking God’s love and mercy through a blessing shouldn’t be subject to “an exhaustive moral analysis” to receive it. 

Some people wonder why any gay person would stay in any Church that does not fully accept them and the life they live. I believe though, the larger the institution, the slower it advances with society. One can look in either direction and see despair or hope. Because I believe God has a place for each of us when this life is over, I will always choose to look toward hope because where there is love, there is always hope. I also believe the Holy Spirit can influence and surprise us sometimes. Besides, it’s not the end product on this earth that matters most: it’s the journey together as we accompany each other, work for change and share our experiences together.  It’s more about being in community together as a faith family in whatever faith that most connects us to God. I also believe I have a responsibility to hold my Church accountable and work for justice and change. If I leave, I help no one who comes after me.  

Soon after Pope Francis began his ministry as Bishop of Rome, when asked about those with a same-sex orientation, he made perhaps his most well-known quote of his pontificate:  “Who am I to judge?”  In these last ten years Pope Francis has increasingly shown that, rather than judge, the church is called to welcome, bless, and embrace the LGBTQ community in Jesus’ name.  

In 2005 Bishop-Emeritus Terry Steib founded our diocesan “Catholic Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons” here in Memphis.  For 18 years, every first Tuesday of the month, this ministry gathers.  When Bishop Steib began this outreach, he wrote to all families in West Tennessee, “Church is Home to All People of God.”   In this letter he puts it beautifully, “The message of Jesus is clear: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ In my meetings with gay and lesbian Catholics, I told them that God does not withhold love from any of us. I believe that wholeheartedly. God’s love is unconditional and that is the gift God offers us in Christ Jesus: the gift of loving each other with that same Godly and unconditional love.”

The Catholic Church, in offering God’s blessing to LGBTQ persons, celebrates God’s unconditional love.  Yes, it’s a great gift for the New Year which Pope Francis gives the Church as he encourages us to ask God’s blessing on lgbtq couples showing that they too are always recipients of God’s unconditional love! Forward progress indeed!

Beth Trouy, Spirituality Correspondent for TUV Magazine