Pope Francis on Friday defended a Vatican document on blessings for same-sex couples but said they were not an approval of a lifestyle the Church sees as potentially sinful but of individuals seeking to get closer to God.
It was the second time in as many weeks that Francis sought to clarify the Dec 18 declaration, which caused widespread debate in the Church, with bishops in some countries refusing to let their priests implement it. He first did so in an Italian television interview on Jan 14.
His latest comments were in an address to members of the Vatican's doctrinal department. Its head, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez, has given a spate of interviews to clarify the intent of the document, known by its Latin title Fiducia Supplicans.
The intentions of the blessings, Francis said were "to concretely show the closeness of the Lord and the Church to all those who, finding themselves in different situations, ask for help to continue - sometimes to begin - a journey of faith."
The Church teaches that gay sex is sinful and disordered and that people with same-sex attractions, which are not considered sinful, should try to be chaste.
The pope said that while "moral perfection" was not required of people seeking such blessings, they were not intended to justify a relationship the Church considers irregular.
"When a couple comes forward spontaneously to ask for them, one does not bless the union, but simply the people who together
have requested it. Not the union, but the persons," Francis said.
Francis stressed that such blessings should not be given in a liturgical context. The document says they should be delivered discreetly and never with any of the pomp or ceremonial accoutrements found at weddings.
Since his election in 2013, Francis has tried to make the Church, with its 1.35 billion members, more welcoming to LGBT people, without changing moral doctrine.
In his Friday address, Francis appeared to acknowledge the pushback the document unleashed, particularly in Africa, where bishops have effectively rejected it and where in some countries same-sex activity can lead to prison or even the death penalty.
Francis said that when the blessings are given, priests should "naturally take into account the context, the sensitivities, the places where one lives and the most appropriate ways to do it".