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Vatican says Catholic Church can't bless same-sex unions

The formal response to a question about the topic said the church should "welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations."

The Catholic Church can't bless same-sex unions, the Vatican said Monday, saying it is "not licit" to bless relationships that involve sexual activity outside of marriage.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the ruling in response to a question about whether the church has the "power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex."

The answer, which was "negative," was expanded on in an accompanying explanation that was published in seven languages and approved by Pope Francis.

It clarified that the church should "welcome with respect and sensitivity persons with homosexual inclinations" but said "the presence in such relationships of positive elements, which are in themselves to be valued and appreciated, cannot justify these relationships and render them legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing."

The explanation also said the ruling doesn't rule out blessings given to people with "homosexual inclinations."

It wasn't clear in the document who asked the original question. The topic is timely given that it is being discussed at the moment by Catholic clergy in the West, said Massimo Faggioli, a professor of religious studies at Villanova University.

"This is an important document because it shows how far Pope Francis is willing to go and where he wants to stop," Faggioli said. "It is very difficult to imagine the practical consequences of the document, and I don't know what would happen to a priest that wants to bless a same-sex couple."

A documentary released in October showed Francis expressing support for same-sex civil unions. The Vatican later clarified that his comments had been taken out of context, although it did confirm Francis' belief that gay couples should enjoy legal protections.