Pope signals openness to blessings for gay couples, study of women's ordination

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Pope Francis has expressed openness to Catholic blessings for same-sex couples, under the condition they are not confused with marriage ceremonies for men and women, in what could be a watershed moment for the church.

Francis has also suggested the question of women's ordination to the priesthood, controversially prohibited by Pope John Paul II in 1994, could be open to further study.

"Pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing, requested by one or several people, that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage," Francis wrote in a letter dated Sept. 25 and released by the Vatican on Oct. 2.

The pope's words come in response to five retired conservative Catholic cardinals who had written to the pontiff, expressing concerns about a number of hot-button issues that are expected to be discussed at a major Vatican meeting this month, known as the Synod of Bishops.

The pope's eight-page reply to some of his most vociferous critics was offered in response to their questions — formally known as dubia — regarding gay blessings, women's ordination to priesthood, synodality, divine revelation and the nature of forgiveness. The cardinals, apparently frustrated by the pope's reply to them, had made public their original questions earlier in the day on Oct. 2.

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