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Pope Francis defends blessings for same-sex couples, calls homosexuality “a human fact” in CBS interview

Breaking NewsViews Ryan Di Corpo / May 20, 2024 Print this:
Norah O'Donnell interviews Pope Francis at Casa Santa Marta in Vatican City, April 24, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Adam Verdugo/CBS News/"60 Minutes," used with permission)

Pope Francis, in an extended on-camera interview with “60 Minutes,” defended his decision allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, while reiterating that the blessing is approved for individuals and not the union itself. 

“Some people were scandalized by this, but why? Everyone, everyone,” the pope said, echoing a familiar and welcoming refrain that has become a key theme of his pontificate. 

Last December, Francis released “Fiducia Supplicans,” a document that said priests could bless same-sex couples, provided the blessings meet several criteria that would differentiate them from a traditional marital blessing. That document was greeted warmly by many LGBTQ Catholics, but provoked controversy in some quarters of the church.

In the CBS interview, Pope Francis repeated the nuance that accompanied the original declaration. 

“What I allowed was not to bless the union,” said the pope to Norah O’Donnell, the anchor of the CBS Evening News, in an interview aired May 19.

“What I allowed was not to bless the union,” said the pope to Norah O’Donnell, the anchor of the CBS Evening News, in an interview aired May 19. “That cannot be done because that is not the sacrament [of matrimony].” 

Ms. O’Donnell, who was raised Catholic and graduated from Georgetown University, spoke with Francis for more than an hour at Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guest house where the pope lives. Part of the interview aired on the CBS Evening News on April 24, and the network will air a one-hour special with more of the pope’s remarks Monday evening. 

Francis’s efforts to avoid doctrinal rigidity have been met with a broad array of reactions during his more than 10 years at pontiff. The release of “Fiducia” by the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith was met with both praise and criticism, with some lauding the document as “a significant victory” for LGBTQ Catholics and others falting it as confusing and ambiguous

Some U.S. church leaders greeted the declaration when it was announced, including Cardinal Blase Cupich, the archbishop of Chicago, who embraced the document as “a step forward.” But many dioceses, including Boston, Green Bay and Crookston, Minn., emphasized that church doctrine on traditional marriage had not changed, and Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone of San Francisco gave diocesan priests permission to deny same-sex blessings to prevent “scandal.” 

In response to a question from Ms. O’Donnell about “conservative” U.S. bishops who have long criticized him, Francis delivered a blunt assessment of their positions. 

[A] conservative is one who clings to something, and does not want to see beyond that. It is a suicidal attitude, because one thing is to take tradition into account, to consider situations from the past, but quite another is to be closed up inside a dogmatic box.

The “60 Minutes” interview with Francis, a first for a U.S. television network, covered a wide range of topics, including the pope’s appeals for a negotiated peace in the Middle East, his plea to welcome migrants regardless of their immigration status, his “zero tolerance” policy for addressing cases of child sexual abuse by clergy members and his rejection of surrogacy and women’s ordination. His critique of surrogacy stems from his opposition to the practice as “a business,” and the pope suggests adoption for couples instead. 

Francis’s efforts to avoid doctrinal rigidity have been met with a broad array of reactions during his more than 10 years at pontiff.

Francis also spoke of “the globalization of indifference,” when people become numb to the suffering of others or “wash their hands” of all responsibility, like Pontius Pilate. “Please, we have to get our hearts to feel again,” he implored. 

Yet despite an abundance of conflicts and tragedies around the world, the pope expressed hope in what he views as the basic decency of all humanity. “We are all fundamentally good,” he said. “Yes, there are some rogues and sinners, but the heart itself is good.” 

During the “60 Minutes” interview, Francis also renewed his support for the global decriminalization of homosexuality, which he called “a human fact.” Speaking in January 2023 with the Associated Press, Francis called laws that persecute LGBTQ people “unjust” and urged the world’s bishops to oppose them. In a letter to Outreach, he expanded upon his initial remarks, describing all sexual acts outside of marriage as sinful but stating the pastors should “consider the circumstances” in each case.

Ryan Di Corpo

Ryan Di Corpo is the managing editor of Outreach. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, America, Boston College Magazine, The Emancipator and elsewhere. He holds an M.A. in journalism from Northeastern University, in Boston.

All articles by Ryan Di Corpo

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  1. I’m so tired of the ongoing churn about the blessing of same-sex couples. Particularly when it’s touted as a major break through for LGBTQ+ Catholics.

    What Ryan failed to mention in this article is exactly HOW Francis reiterated that the blessing is approved for individuals and not the union itself. In the interview Francis said: “To bless a homosexual-type union, however, goes against the law; the natural law, the law of the Church.”

    Ok, so now I’m not only intrinsically disordered, I also go against the laws of nature. Were’s the welcome that Outreach talks about? Doesn’t feel so welcoming to me.

    There’s no hope of me returning to the church after 40 years, but I continue to speak out in this forum on behalf of the young people in the pews. I can’t sit by quietly as the Church continues to spew this hurtful rhetoric about LGBTQ+ people.

    My advice to LGBTQ+ Catholics continues to be – Find a denomination out there that preaches that God loves and honors you for EXACTLY who you are. In your totality. Your relationship is holy and sacred. The Catholic church does you a grave disservice calling your relationship sinful.

    • Thank you for the validation, Rick! I recently came out to my Catholic parents and have been struggling with trying to find my place in the Catholic Church. When there doesn’t seem to be a strong and positive stand from the Catholic Church it becomes difficult to get the same from my parents. I have stopped attending mass because of how disconnected I feel. But I am hoping that someday that may change; that the church grows and evolves to LOVE us equally as many other dominations do.

    • I hear and feel your pain. Like many of us the aligning of our catholic faith and who God made us gets a smack in the face sometimes. And yet, I truly feel called to be Catholic. I’m really sorry you left the church, I don’t blame you, but your commentsays you do it on behalf of the LGBT people in the pews. I’m one of them, and you don’t need to do it on behalf of me. It’s more often than not the media headlines that twist things and actually grassroots Catholicism is so much more welcoming . Some of the wording in the teachings is gross, but, like some theology, it isn’t black and white. I like to think that sitting in the pews, being close to Jesus and Our Lady as a proud gay man may help others see it’s possible, because with God, everything is. Be who you are, a child of God.

    • Hi Rick,

      I’ve seen you post here regularly…You’ve shown more patience than I can take anymore. I admire your dedication.

      As I see it, we’re in the middle of a centuries-long process: From the discovery that “homosexual” (sorry for the medical term) people exist in the late 1800’s; to the first acknowledgment by the church that we exist in 1975/1976 a century later with “Persona Humana” (I was just a baby); to the declaration of war with our community (the often-called Halloween letter) in 1986 titled “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”; to all the in-between documents of the 1990’s/2000’s; to “Fiducia Supplicans”. Let’s set aside all the church communications during the emergence of HIV/AIDS… Huh… Let’s also set aside all that you and I, and all our generation of catholic LGBTQ people had to go through as we were growing up and discovered ourselves.

      At least, Fiducia Supplicans shows some progress compared to the other previous ones, but the bar is sooooo low; and there’s been sooo much opposition, it’s revulsive. And why does it take sooo long?..

      The institutional church should know by now the magnitude of the mistake they made. It will make the Galileo affair look like peanuts in comparison. Maybe the intellectual capital invested by now is too high for some prelates to back off. They’ll have to leave the scene before anything can move on. I’ll probably be out myself by then.

      I hope that young people have plenty of resources by now to pull from so that they understand who they are and that nothing is wrong with them. At the same time, it looks like plenty of straight people come to understand that the institutional church is wrong on an apocalyptic level.

      I’m not sure how they’ll get out of it. They place their bets on the global south for growth, where some countries seem to be at the same level of understanding as Western countries in the 1950’s. It will give them some time to handle this topic better there. Meanwhile, the church may collapse in the West. And I don’t know how the global church will get out of this. Again, this seems like a multi-century process.

      I don’t know why He brought me to reconsider the church after almost 25 years away from it, and get me drawn to this website some two years ago. I was doing just fine… Or maybe not… I was probably hanging on to some hope to see this sorted out eventually. In reality, I had to understand the time scale we are dealing with, and that I won’t be here anymore when this is sorted out in decades (hopefully not centuries) from now.

      Good luck, Rick. May God/Jesus bless you.

  2. I’m afraid I have to agree with Rick F’s grim assessment of the situation. At the start of his papacy Pope Francis tried to extend an olive branch to the gay community, saying, “Who am I to judge?” As with Bill Clinton’s early efforts to end the ban on gays in the military, the conservative backlash to Francis’ seemingly innocuous words was swift and severe. And so he backed off and said nothing for nearly a decade until he signed off on the CDF’s 2021 declaration that the church will never bless same-sex unions because “God does not and cannot bless sin.”

    And then last December he shocked the world by seemingly opening the doors to an official church blessing of same-sex couples. Now we find out that he was really only allowing a blessing of individuals, something that has been allowed for two thousand years to anyone. This has been my breaking point.

    I’ve been serving the Catholic Church for over fifty years as a professional church musician, and all this time I’ve lived in hope that real change would eventually occur. As I approach the age of retirement, I’ve made the decision to leave the church once I do retire. I cannot in good conscience remain part of an organization that calls my intrinsic nature “objectively disordered,” language incidentally that was only placed in the Catholic lexicon in 1992 when it was etched in stone for all time by a man I’m convinced was fighting his own demons who wanted to shut the gate for everyone else who experienced such “disordered” tendencies.

    The church may move in centuries, but life is too short for the rest of us. I agree with Rick – LGBT people who seek God should find a spiritual home where they are not considered disordered second-class citizens. The Catholic Church will never change. It’s time for LGBT people everywhere to come to terms with that and move on.

  3. If we all leave the Church, there would be no one left to reform it.

    • The Catholic Church is a top-down organization. Any “reform” that’s ever going to happen is going to come from the top and then trickle on down. There’s no such thing as Catholic reform coming from the bottom and then trickling up. It doesn’t work that way.

  4. A couple of years ago, I decided to return to church because Pope Francis had been saying some positive things and I had hoped that some change was on the horizon. I sought out a Jesuit parish and have been happy there. But in reality, Pope Francis has changed nothing. He is just being “nicer.” Or, rather, he was until the latest document re gender was released. Being gay and Catholic is like being in an abusive relationship. Your parter tells you he loves you one day, and then punches you in the face the next day.

    Well, I’m getting tired of it. I’m still attending mass for now, but the Jesuits are leaving my parish at the end of June, and I’m afraid I’ll be leaving with them. I’ll give the new diocesan priest a shot, but I don’t have high hopes. I’m currently taking an Intro to Judaism class, and I have to say, Reform Judaism is extremely welcoming to the LGBTQ community. Los Angeles even has two LGBTQ synagogues. I’m not taking the class with the pre-determined goal of converting, but I am trying to absorb as much information as I can, and am keeping an open mind. I’m still trying to wrap my head around what it would be like to be part of a faith community where LGBTQ people are treated equally and where I could even get married in a religious ceremony one day if I wanted to!

    • Try the Episcopal Church of St. Thomas the Apostle near Hollywood. Very “high church” (Anglo-Catholic) worship that would appeal to your Catholic sensibilities. They are also very gay-affirming.

  5. I would like to thank everyone for their comments, critical or not, on this piece. I feel this is a constructive dialogue among some differing viewpoints, which is what we’d hope for here.

    • Thank you Ryan for writing this article and thank you everyone who responded to my initial post. I think this forum is a very important service provided by Outreach. It gives LGBTQ+ Catholics the opportunity to share their stories. Church leadership needs to hear the pain and disappointment experienced by so many of us.

      I get that many LGBTQ+ Catholics want to remain faithful to the church and try to help facilitate positive change, but as a 63 year old gay man who I can honestly say has been psychologically abused by the church I also know that life is short and I can’t wait around if it’s going to take another 1000 years for any real change.

      Hence my personal advice is always – Find a denomination out there that loves and cherishes your heart, your soul, and your relationship in their entirety. You don’t need to stick around where you’re deemed intrinsically disordered. Maybe it will take enough LGBTQ+ parishioners and our allies leaving the church for leadership to enact the real change we’re all hoping for.

      Peace to all.

  6. The Catholic Church, which I have been ordained a priest in for almost 60 years, is not a monolith as some comments suggest. As a gay man, I have been part of the “trickle up” from below of so many years of gay ministry with Dignity, which considers itself part of the Catholic Church. There are many Catholics, including priests and especially Catholic nuns, who are LGBTQ affirming and they do it by welcoming you into their homes, religious communities and churches. I plead for you not to leave the Church for “another denomination” because the same divisions will be found there. The Catholic Church is far bigger than the latest Vatican document or papal interview.
    I read an interview response from Pope Francis recently on Fiducia Supplicans where he said, “I don’t bless the union. I bless their love.” Hold onto that, please, even if it is a bit tortured as he may be forced to do, and do the same as often and publicly as you can. Bless LGBTQ people and couples’ love, as their existence blesses us and our love, whatever orientation you have been created to be in God’s fascinating and varied world.

    • I disagree with the Church on many issues besides LGBTQ issues… marriage and divorce, birth control, abortion, women’s ordination just to name a few… But I have always engaged in some “mental gymnastics” to justify my continued Mass attendance, i.e., so long as I focus on Jesus and not these issues, then I could still consider myself Catholic. But now I’m not so sure. As I read books about (Reform or Conservative) Judaism, which accepts that there is no one way to be Jewish, I find that my personal beliefs are more in alignment with Judaism than Catholicism. Except for Jesus. I don’t know how to resolve that.

      Tom suggested that I try out St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Hollywood. In fact, I did try it back in 2008. After some anti-gay incidents at my former Catholic parish, I decided to leave and tried out St. Thomas. I was not the only one. Several people from my former Catholic parish were in attendance at St. Thomas when I went. But something about it felt inauthentic to me. I didn’t go back. I just stopped going to church completely until I decided to go back in 2022, but this time to a Jesuit-run parish farther away from my house.

      I went to Catholic school for 10 years. In junior high, I realized I was gay and that the Church believed that this was evil. Every day after school, I would go to the kitchen, grab a knife, and sit on the floor trying to get the courage to kill myself. The only thing that stopped me was knowing that my mother would be completely devastated.

      At this point in my life, I am 49 years old and I know the Catholic Church will NEVER accept LGBTQ people in my lifetime. I do not think it is psychologically healthy to continue to subject myself to the homophobia of the Catholic Church. I firmly believe that the Catholic Church is inflicting psychological abuse on LGBTQ Catholics and I don’t want to be someone who accepts that or appears to condone it. I’m discovering that, for me, the only mentally healthy and ethical thing to do is to leave.

    • Having just attended the early mass for Trinity Sunday (as is my wont since I’m paid to be there as a musician) I want to respond a second time in order to convey what I just experienced:

      At the end of mass the priest, a nice man, encouraged the congregation to go on YouTube to watch the “60 Minutes” interview with Pope Francis. His main purpose for doing so was to beg those people who had written Francis off as being too kind to the gays to give him a second chance since in the interview the Pope clarifies that he is NOT allowing blessings of gay unions OR their love for each other (especially that) but rather just the individuals, minus their love for each other.

      See how that works? So all is right with Catholicism once again now that those icky evil gays are once again kept in their place. THIS is the reality of being a gay Catholic in the church today, NOT your fantasy make-believe world in which gays are truly welcome and everyone sings “Kumbaya” together as we all hold hands and love one another.

  7. “There are many Catholics, including priests and especially Catholic nuns, who are LGBTQ affirming and they do it by welcoming you into their homes, religious communities and churches.”

    That’s nice, but when we are welcomed into the house of God that welcome is highly conditional: we are asked by the church to confess our “sin” of loving, and commit to sinning no more in order to get right with God and receive the holy Eucharist. That’s the part I can no longer abide – I’d rather break bread with people whose love is not so conditional.

  8. Hi, It’s me again.

    With all due respect to Father P, I need to point out that he misquoted the Pope.

    The Pope did not say “I don’t bless the union. I bless their love.” The Pope’s actual words as reported on the Jesuit Review website are: “I don’t bless a ‘homosexual marriage.’ I bless two people who love each other.”

    The actual quote is very different from what Father P reported. The Pope is blessing the PEOPLE in the relationship not their LOVE for each other. It’s been made abundantly clear in all the documents, announcements, and interviews coming out of the church since the blessing of same-sex couples first hit the airwaves that the Pope is allowing priests to bless the PEOPLE in same-sex relationships, but not the relationship.

    So my advice to LGBTQ+ Catholics for some 40 years now continues to be – Find a denomination where you are accepted for who you are in totality, and your relationship is deemed holy, sacred, and loving.

    I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the reply from Chris above. I want Chris to know how strongly their comments resonated with me. I found myself in total agreement with you. I’ve said many times on this site that I find the Catholic approach to LGBTQ+ people psychologically abusive. “You are loved and welcome, but by the way you’re intrinsically disordered and your relationship is sinful.” To that I say – enough already. Stop the abuse.

    Also Chris, I truly believe that Jesus was sitting with you on that kitchen floor while you were holding that knife, willing you not to listen to, and not believe the hateful rhetoric being directed at you by the church. It fills my heart with extreme happiness to know that you are still here. I hope you now know that you are PERFECT in every way and have so much to offer the world just as you are.

    Finally, I hate to appear hurtful to Father P, but if the church is so welcoming and accepting of LGBTQ+ people why does there even have to be a Dignity? Why don’t we ever hear about Out and Proud priests if the church is so welcoming and accepting of our community?

    I guess I should also clarify that I’m very grateful for this dialogue because it’s critical for the folks at Outreach to hear from LGBTQ+ Catholics. Outreach has the ear of leadership. They need to make leadership understand the pain and heartbreak experienced by so many LGBTQ+ Catholics. In some ways I think it’s easy and comfortable for allies and parishioners in general to find the Pope’s approach to lGBTQ+ people as revolutionary, but for most of us actually living the experience it ends up being just a lot of empty words.

    That’s all for now…..

  9. Another day, another insult added to previous injury.

    And so we learn that Pope Francis recently made closed-door reference to “frociaggine,” or”faggotry” in English, among priests, and reiterated Pope Benedict’s ban on gay priests, as if there aren’t already countless gay priests out there.

    If I had any sh*ts left to give I’d be upset, but at this point I’m not even surprised, just more determined than ever to get the hell out of here (Catholicism) ASAP.

    • I’m with you Tom.

      Last night, minutes after posting my reply directly preceding this, I saw the news about the Pope’s slur. Sad but not surprising.

      Equally sad was the apology from the Vatican. It could have been written by an American politician. Did he use the term or not? And either way, what did he intend to say? Even if you take away the slur, it appears his basic message was that there are too many gay men in the seminaries. In which case, where’s the welcome? “The church loves you and welcomes you, but by the way, you’re intrinsically disordered, your relationship is sinful, and you can’t be a priest.

      Unfortunately in recent months it seems the church has been heavily prompting outrage rather than promoting outreach. This makes me profoundly sad and hurt.