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Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pope while being interviewed for the feature-length documentary 'Francesco.' USA TODAY

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Catholic advocates of gay New Jerseyans expressed dismay Monday while traditionalists were supportive of the church's declaration that priests cannot bless same-sex marriages, an edict that dimmed hopes for those who saw a more welcoming figure in Pope Francis. 

The Vatican's statement that the church cannot bless such pairings because God "cannot bless sin" did not elicit gasps of surprise, either, as it reiterated Catholicism's long-held opposition. But it was disappointing for those who previously praised Francis' overtures to the LGBTQ community. 

"I remain hopeful that a bit more time and prayerful consideration will swing the official decision as to whether we may bless such persons from 'no' to a joyful 'yes,' " said the Rev. Richard Rento, a semiretired Catholic priest in Lavallette, who said he has many LGBTQ relatives and former parishioners.

Rento said the mutual attraction felt by couples in LGBTQ unions is similar to heterosexual relationships and is "truly of God."  

Monday's statement from the Vatican's orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said, "there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family." It declared illicit any form of blessing that would tend to acknowledge same-sex unions.

The Vatican said it was responding to questions about gay unions. The two-page statement, published in seven languages, was approved by Pope Francis.

It followed less than six months after the pope's stunning endorsement of same-sex civil unions was made public.

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Pope Francis said in a 2019 interview for the documentary "Francesco." “What we have to have is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”

Legally covered, but not church-sanctioned. Francis made the comment during an interview with a Mexican broadcaster, Televisa. It was cut by the Vatican but later appeared in the documentary.

The Rev. Robert Keating, executive director of the Center in Asbury Park, which provides support for those living with HIV and AIDS, said the statement "wasn't surprising, but it's still disappointing. It doesn't change anything. The pope is always very welcoming himself." 

Monsignor Richard Arnhols of St. John the Evangelist in Bergenfield said the latest instruction was simply "clarifying that the church's position has always been that marriage can only be between a man and a woman."

While one can understand the desire of clergy to "offer a type of blessing to gay couples to make them feel more welcome," Arnhols said, that could be misconstrued as equivalent to allowing a same-sex union. "This, then, simply seems to be a clarification so that things not be confused." 

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Monday's Vatican statement said God "never ceases" to bless all people, including people who are gay.

"But he does not and cannot bless sin," the statement said. "He blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him. ... The Church does not have, and cannot have, the power to bless unions of persons of the same sex."

Jamie Manson, president of Catholics of Choice, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., said this "tells same-sex couples that their love is inferior. For a pope that has made a lot of noises about reaching out and building bridges, this certainly is very wounding."

Many LGBTQ people and their families had hope that their love would finally be seen as sacred. "I worry that this could be a final blow. People can't believe that the pope approved this document, but he did," Manson added. 

Jim Bretzke, a priest, author and professor of theology at John Carroll University in Ohio, said the Vatican's latest statement on the question appears to be attempting to "thread a needle" in its acceptance of gay people but not gay unions.

"The church explicitly says gay men and women can be blessed," he said. "But that the domestic union of a gay couple should not be liturgically blessed, lest people misinterpret this blessing as a form of Catholic marriage lite."

Catholics generally are among the more accepting sects of Christianity when it comes to same-sex unions. A Pew survey found that more than half of Catholics in the United States, along with Mainline Protestants and Orthodox Christians, support same-sex marriage. 

The pope has a complicated history with the LGBTQ community, specifically on same-sex marriage. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he endorsed civil unions for gay couples in lieu of same-sex marriages. Months into his papacy, he was quoted as saying: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

But Francis also has repeatedly condemned same-sex marriage during his time as pope — emphasizing the Catholic dictum of marriage remaining between a man and a woman in multiple statements. 

"The declaration of the unlawfulness of blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is not ... intended to be a form of unjust discrimination," the statement Monday said. "But rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite."

This article contains material from The Associated Press.

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