Making history on a Tuesday morning, with the blessing of the Church

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As a Jesuit priest for more than two decades, the Rev. James Martin has bestowed thousands of blessings: rosaries, babies, homes, ships and meals, statues of saints, the sick, brides and grooms. .

However, he has never before been allowed to bless a same-sex couple, not until Monday, when the Pope said he would allow such blessings, an announcement that resonated throughout the church.

On Tuesday morning, Damian Steidl Jack, 44, and his husband, Jason Steidl Jack, 38, stood across from Father Martin in a living room on Manhattan's West Side. The couple, who arrived a little late due to subway delays, dressed casually. Damian, a floral designer, complimented Father Martin on the pine smell of the Christmas tree.

In accordance with the Vatican's warning that such a blessing should not be performed with “any dress, gesture or word typical of a wedding,” Father Martin was not wearing a robe and was not reading any text. There is no blessing for same-sex couples in the thick book of blessings published by the United States Conference of Bishops. Instead, he selected one of his favorites from the Old Testament.

“May the Lord bless you and keep you,” Father Martin began, touching the shoulders of the two men. They bowed their heads slightly and held hands.

“May the Lord make his face shine on you and have mercy on you. May the Lord turn his face toward you and give you joy and peace.

“And may Almighty God bless you,” he said, making the sign of the cross, “the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

And then, with excitement evident on their faces, the three men hugged each other.

Damian Steidl Jack, left, and his husband, Jason Steidl Jack, on their wedding day at Judson Memorial Church in the West Village in 2022.

Father Martin is arguably the highest-profile advocate for LGBTQ Catholics in the United States. He has met frequently with Pope Francis to try to make the Roman Catholic Church more inclusive, and in the fall he participated in a global meeting on the future of the church at the pope's invitation.

On Tuesday morning he was far from the corridors of power. She was at home, making history. Father Martin had waited years to have the privilege of openly saying that prayer, no matter how simple it was.

“It was really nice,” Father Martin said Tuesday, “to be able to do that publicly.”

The pope's decision was welcomed as a historic victory by advocates for gay Catholics, who describe it as a significant gesture of openness and pastoral care, and a reminder that an institution whose age is measured in millennia can change.

The decision does not overturn church doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. It does not allow priests to celebrate same-sex marriages. It is necessary to make an effort to differentiate between the sacrament of marriage, which must take place in a church, and a blessing, which is a more informal, even spontaneous, gesture. And the priestly blessing of a same-sex couple should not take place in connection with a civil marriage ceremony, he says.

News of the pope's decision spread quickly among gay Catholics, many of whom began preparing for their own blessings after the busy Christmas season.

The morning of the Pope's announcement, Michael McCabe's husband, Eric Sherman, rushed into the office of his Forest Hills, Queens, apartment, filled with news: Their 46-year partnership could finally be blessed.

“You wait so long for the church to recover, that you kind of lose hope,” said McCabe, 73, who attends Mass every Sunday at St. Francis Xavier Church in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

The couple married in 2010 in Connecticut, before same-sex marriages were legalized in their home state of New York. They had long since resigned themselves to the church's position, even if they had not made complete peace with it, McCabe said.

“I know that my relationship with my husband and I are good things,” said McCabe, who taught catechism to first graders at the church.

Although the Pope's decision stops short of recognizing McCabe's marriage, he said he could only find joy in the news. After rejoicing with her husband on Monday, she sent an email to her priest. They plan to receive a blessing at the beginning of the new year.

It was not immediately clear how different priests across the country would respond to the pope's invitation to bless gay couples. The announcement gives priests freedom and encouragement to offer blessings, but does not require them to do so. Gay couples living in more liberal dioceses may be more likely to find a willing priest than those living in conservative dioceses. In Chicago, Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, a close ally of Pope Francis, issued a statement saying that in his archdiocese “we welcome this statement, which will help many more in our community to feel the closeness and compassion of God.” ”. Many other bishops have remained silent until now. Conservative critics have said the pope's move essentially encourages priests to bless sin.

“I'm sure many older bishops are open to this, and a lot of young priests will need to be convinced,” said Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University, noting that young Catholic priests in the United States are overwhelmingly conservative.

In New York City, where a handful of progressive Catholic churches have been at the forefront of welcoming LGBTQ parishioners but have stopped short of marrying them and sanctifying their unions, the news from the Vatican was as exciting for some priests as it was for their congregation.

“I say it's time,” said the Rev. Joseph Juracek, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Midtown, who believes the church is finally aligning with the teachings of Jesus: “This is what he's all about. : That God is for all people.”

While many Catholics celebrated the pope's decision, others felt it was too little, too late. Some LGBTQ people who left the church years ago, feeling unwelcome, said it was a half-measure that wouldn't tempt them to return.

Thomas Molina-Duarte, 37, a social worker in Detroit, was an active member of his local Catholic parish for many years. But when he and her husband married, they had to do so in an Episcopal church, and eventually they joined a “local church,” where they meet with a small group for close readings of Bible texts.

“I welcome the news, but it will not bring me back to the church,” Molina-Duarte said of the pope's decision. “We have found a community of other people that we felt we could fully contribute to.”

In New York City, Damian and Jason Steidl Jack, who married last year, had previously discussed the possibility of a blessing with Father Martin, an old friend of Jason's. When Father Martin texted them Monday afternoon and asked if they wanted a blessing, they accepted the offer.

“God's grace is at work in our lives, whether the Vatican makes an announcement or not,” said Jason, an assistant professor of religious studies at St. Joseph's University in Brooklyn and an advocate for gay Catholics. “But we are looking forward to the support of our communities and our pastors who care for us.”

As they walked back to the subway from Father Martin's Jesuit community residence, Jason and Damian said the blessing he had given them felt both ordinary and profound.

“It's one grace among many,” Jason said. They were part of the story and they were also on their way to meet Damian's mother in Walmart to buy Christmas groceries.

“It's like you said,” Jason told his husband, “it's like we're reclaiming our space.”

Kirsten Noyes contributed to the research.



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