Monday, May 27, 2024

As a Jesuit priest for more than two decades, the Rev. James Martin has bestowed thousands of blessings — on rosary beads, on babies, on homes, boats, and meals, on statues of saints, on the sick, on brides and grooms, and never before had he been permitted to bless a same-sex couple — not until Monday, when the pope said he would allow such blessings, an announcement that reverberated through the church.

Tuesday morning, Damian Steidl Jack, 44, and his husband, Jason Steidl Jack, 38, stood before Father Martin in a living room on Manhattan’s West Side. The couple, running a bit late because of subway delays, dressed casually. In keeping with the Vatican’s admonition that such a blessing should not be performed with “any clothing, gestures, or words that are proper to a wedding,” Father Martin wore no robes, and read from no text instead he selected a favorite of his own from the Old Testament.

“May the Lord bless and keep you,” Father Martin began, touching the two men’s shoulders. They bowed their heads slightly, and held hands. “May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May the Lord turn his countenance to 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 emotion evident on their faces, the three men hugged. Father Martin is arguably the highest-profile advocate for L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics in America. He has met frequently with Pope Francis about making the Roman Catholic Church more inclusive, and in the fall he participated in a global gathering on the church’s future at the pope’s invitation.

The pope’s decision was greeted as a landmark 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 millenniums can change. The decision does not overturn the church’s doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman. It does not allow priests to perform same-sex marriages. The announcement gives individual priests latitude and encouragement to offer the blessings, but does not require them to do so.

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