Ukrainian Catholic church says document on blessing same-sex couples does not apply

(Reuters) – The head of Ukraine’s eastern-rite Catholic church on Saturday said a document endorsed by Pope Francis this week permitting blessings for same-sex couples did not apply to his church and its teachings.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk said the Vatican document “interprets the pastoral meaning of blessings in the Latin Church” but made no reference to issues governing the eastern, or Greek Catholic, church.

“Thus … this Declaration applies solely to the Latin Church and has no legal force for the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church,” Shevchuk said in a statement.

He said a blessing could not be separated from the church’s teachings and “can in no way contradict the teaching of the Catholic Church about the family as a faithful, indissoluble, and fertile union of love between a man and a woman.”

The eastern-rite church worships according to rites similar to the Orthodox faith, but is in communion with Rome by virtue of a 16th century agreement. Repression forced the church underground in Soviet times and it now has about 4.5 million parishioners, or roughly 10% of the population of Ukraine.

The document from the Vatican’s doctrinal office said Roman Catholic priests can administer blessings to same-sex couples as long as they are not part of regular church rituals or liturgies.

It said such blessings would be a sign that God welcomes all but should not be confused with the sacrament of heterosexual marriage.

Gay rights are making some progress in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states outside Russia. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has expressed sympathy for upholding gay rights, though ruling out constitutional changes to allow single-sex marriages while the country is at war.

(This story has been corrected to say ‘same-sex couples,’ not ‘same-sex marriage,’ in the headline)

(Reporting by Ron Popeski; Editing by Chris Reese)