The Vatican on Monday said that while priests should be welcoming towards homsexual people, they cannot bless same-sex marriages as such blessings “cannot be considered licit”, The Guardian reported.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, issued the decree in response to questions raised by some pastors. The response was approved by Pope Francis, who last year endorsed same-sex civil union laws in an interview for a documentary film.

The decree said that while “the Christian community and its pastors must welcome with respect and sensitivity those individuals with homosexual inclinations”, their unions cannot be blessed as God “does not bless sin”.

In the decree released on Monday, the Vatican said that Catholic teaching held that marriage between a man and woman was part of god’s plan, and since same sex unions were not intended to be part of that plan, they could not be blessed by the church, according to The New York Times.

“God does not and cannot bless sin”, it stated. “He blesses sinful man, so that he may recognise that he is part of his plan of love and allow him to be changed by him.”

The decree said that there was a risk that same-sex unions could be misconstrued as constituting “a certain imitation” of the nuptial blessing invoked in heterosexual matrimony. In fact, “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” the Vatican wrote.

In October, Pope Francis had said that “homosexual people have a right to be in a family,” in a documentary titled Francesco, by Evgeny Afineevsky. “They are children of God and have a right to a family,” he had said. “Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it.”

The pope had also spoken about the need for a “civil union law”. “That way they are legally covered,” he had said. His reference was apparently to the time when he had backed legal protection for same-sex couples as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires.