February 14, 2006

Valentine’s Day or April Fool’s? Vienna gays unsure

VIENNA (Reuters) - Gay couples in Vienna were unsure
whether Tuesday was St. Valentine's Day or April Fool's after
state radio announced the Catholic Church would bless their
unions and an Austrian priest had to deny any such plan.

ORF radio reported at the weekend that a priest at St.
Stephen's Cathedral, in the heart of the Austrian capital,
would say a Mass on the traditional day for lovers and bless
all couples, married or not, straight or gay.

"All who want God's blessing for their relationship are
welcome," it quoted Rev. Toni Faber as saying.

Or maybe not. The Catholic Church rejects homosexual sex as
a sin and sex outside marriage is forbidden. Dispensing
Catholic blessings for gay couples in one of Europe's great
cathedrals would be an act of rebellion against the Vatican.

"This will not be a Mass, but only a service with blessings
afterwards for all lovers, whether they are married or
engaged," Faber told Catholic news agency Kath.net to clarify

Individual gays could get a blessing, he said, but stressed
that their union would not get the Church's approval. "To avoid
any misunderstandings, we should stress the difference between
blessing couples and blessing individuals," he said.

Austria's Catholic bishops drew up new guidelines for St.
Valentine's Day blessings last year that made way for
individual blessings but said nothing about homosexuals.