Days after he officially permitted priests to bless same-sex couples in a dramatic shift in Vatican policy, Pope Francis advised Vatican bureaucrats on Thursday to refrain from taking “rigid ideological positions” that hinder them from comprehending today’s reality.

In an effort to help the cardinals, bishops, and lay people of the Vatican listen to one another and outsiders, Francis used his yearly Christmas greeting to the hierarchy of the Holy See to urge them to change and become faithful servants of the Catholic Church.

Speaking to them in the Hall of Blessings, Francis emphasized the need for them to continue developing and expanding their knowledge of the truth. Fearfully adhering to regulations may seem like a good idea. Still, in the end, he argued, it undermines the ministry that the Vatican Curia is supposed to provide the church.

“Let us remain vigilant against rigid ideological positions that often, under the guise of good intentions, separate us from reality and prevent us from moving forward,” the pope said. “We are called instead to set out and journey, like the Magi, following the light that always desires to lead us on, at times along unexplored paths and new roads.”

The same week that Francis publicly approved allowing priests to bless same-sex couples—as long as the blessings don’t appear to be a marriage ceremony—he had his yearly meeting with Vatican leadership.

The permission overturned a 2021 Vatican doctrinal office regulation that categorically prohibited such blessings because God “does not and cannot bless sin,” as Francis had alluded to earlier this year.

The Vatican maintains that while homosexual relationships between members of the same sex are “intrinsically disordered,” gay people nevertheless need to be treated with respect and dignity. According to Catholic doctrine, marriage is a lifetime commitment between a man and a woman; it is a component of God’s design, and its primary goal is the procreation of new life.

Progressives and supporters of broader acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in the church applauded Francis’ statement as a long-overdue show of openness and welcome. Conservatives and traditionalists have attacked it as being at odds with biblical teachings regarding homosexuality.

Francis made no mention of the decision on Thursday. His comments were general and connected to the Nativity account from the Bible. He cited the Second Vatican Council’s modernizing teachings to urge the gathered prelates to listen to one another, make judgments, and move forward without being constrained by preconceived notions.

“It takes courage to journey, to move forward,” he said. “Sixty years after the council, we are still debating the division between progressives and conservatives. This isn’t difference. The real difference is between lovers and those who have lost that initial passion.”

All cardinals residing in Rome are invited to the high-profile annual reception. This year, one notable omission was Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was sentenced to five and a half years in prison after being found guilty of theft over the weekend in a significant financial trial. He intends to file an appeal.

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