March 15 (UPI) -- The Vatican said Monday that Roman Catholic priests and other ministers within the church cannot bless same-sex unions in lieu of traditional marriages.
The church acknowledged "positive elements" of same-sex relationships but said the unions are "not ordered to the plan of the creator."
"Since blessings on persons are related to the sacraments, the blessings of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit, as it would in some way constitute an imitation or reference of analogy with the nuptial blessing invoked on the man and woman who unite in the sacrament of matrimony," the Vatican said.
Pope Francis agreed with the church's degree.
The Vatican pointed to an apostolic address in which the pope said there is no "foundation for assimilating or establishing analogies" between same-sex unions and "God's plan for marriage and family."
"The declaration of illegality of the blessings of unions between persons of the same sex is therefore not, and does not intend to be, an unjust discrimination, but rather to recall the truth of the liturgical rite and of what deeply corresponds to the essence of the sacramentals," the Vatican said.
Many Catholics of the gay community had hoped Francis would change church law to be more inclusive.
In 2016, Pope Francis apologized to the gay community and other marginalized groups who have been offended or exploited by the church and he said in a recent documentary that civil unions should be "legally covered."
Monday's announcement is a response to some countries, including the United States, where Catholic priests have begun blessing same-sex unions as a de facto substitution for a marriage ceremony.