After a media firestorm ignited by a Vatican condemnation of same-sex unions -- because God "cannot bless sin" -- Catholic progressives immediately looked for hope in the words of bishops, President Joe Biden and even Pope Francis.
In his Sunday Angelus address after the March 15 ruling, the pope stressed that modern seekers want to "see Jesus" in acts of love, not persecution.
Catholics must promote "a life that takes upon itself the style of God -- closeness, compassion and tenderness," said the pope. "It means sowing seeds of love, not with fleeting words but through concrete, simple and courageous examples; not with theoretical condemnations, but with gestures of love. Then the Lord, with his grace, makes us bear fruit, even when the soil is dry due to misunderstandings, difficulty or persecution, or claims of legalism or clerical moralism."
While Pope Francis gave "his assent" to the ruling, the Jesuit publication America cited anonymous Vatican sources saying the Angelus remarks suggested that he was "distancing himself" from the work of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
That document said God "does not and cannot bless sin: He blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed." As for same-sex unions, it added: "The presence in such relationships of positive elements ... cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the Creator's plan."
Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp -- who represented Belgium at the 2015 Vatican Synod on Marriage and the Family -- said those words left him "ashamed on behalf of my Church. ... I want to apologize to all those for whom this 'responsum' is painful and incomprehensible: faithful and committed Catholic homosexual couples, the parents and grandparents of homosexual couples and their children, pastoral workers and counselors of homosexual couples," he wrote on Facebook.
"I know homosexual couples who are legally married, have children, form a warm and stable family, and moreover, actively participate in parish life. A number of them are employed full time in pastoral work or ecclesial organizations," he added. So why deny the "similarity or analogy with heterosexual marriage here?"
Meanwhile, the president of the German bishops' conference, Bishop Georg Batzing, said he was "not happy" about the Vatican document. Also, a statement from 230 Catholic theologians in Germany called the refusal to bless same-sex unions "paternalistic," "discriminating" and lacking in "theological depth."
The head of St. Peter's Cathedral in the small German city of Worms went further, saying he "cannot and will not" refuse blessings to anyone. Father Tobias Schaefer told the Deutsche Welle network: "My opinion is: Don't take Rome seriously and continue with pastoral care. There are more important things than such stupid papers!"
In Austria, Bishop Hermann Glettler of Innsbruck told Kathpress: "We want to offer all gay and lesbian people ... a welcome and a spiritual home in the church -- and not only when they are celibate." The country's liberal Parish Priests Initiative, with 350 members, pledged to continue same-sex blessings, adding that the "Roman decree" recalled "times that we had hoped to have overcome with Pope Francis."
In the United States, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden -- a Catholic layman who frequently praises Pope Francis -- had no "personal response" to the ruling, but continues to support same-sex marriage. Biden performed two same-sex marriage rites while vice president.
Also, New Ways Ministry -- based near Washington -- urged priests and other Catholics in its network to sign an online petition calling on "Pope Francis and Vatican leaders to rescind this statement which has caused so much pain," while pledging to "find new ways to affirm and bless all [LGBT] people, whether they are single or in a committed relationship."
The group offered a sample same-sex union rite, with a priest proclaiming: "Splendid to us and much sought after is the sweet smell of love established in the time of our ancestors, guided by the voices of the prophets, sanctified by the preaching of the apostles, and made alive by the witness of the women and those unconfined by gender: because of all the beautiful things of the earth, love is the most excellent."
Terry Mattingly leads GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a senior fellow at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.