VATICAN CITY—In a stunning and unexpected reversal of long-standing doctrine, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Roman Catholic Church's unequivocal support for gay marriage Tuesday, just hours after meeting Stonington, CT couple Tony Ruggiero and Craig Housinger.
The papal decree—which authorizes priests to administer the sacrament of holy matrimony to same-sex partners and explicitly states that "homosexual relations between two consenting adults is not, and never has been, a sin"—was reportedly a direct result of the pope sharing an afternoon of engaging conversation and hearty laughter with the gay couple.
"Not only are Tony and Craig complete sweethearts, but anyone who spends more than two minutes with them can see they're clearly perfect for each other," said Benedict, who in the past has described homosexual behavior as a grave disease that threatens all of humanity. "They're fun, gracious, and simply wonderful company. And you can tell they have something special just by the way they look at each other."
"They're soulmates, really," added the pope, smiling. "Allowing them to formalize their union in the Church is the least we could do for them."
Vatican officials said the vacationing couple and the Supreme Pontiff met during a routine papal audience at St. Peter's Basilica, and "really hit it off" after discovering shared interests in photography, the piano, and Spanish cuisine.
Though sources said the 84-year-old Benedict, a lifelong scholar of antigay ecclesiastical law, initially appeared skeptical upon meeting the pair, he was reportedly put at ease after Housinger spoke a few humorous lines to the pope in his native German and Ruggiero effusively complimented his gold cuff links, touching off a friendly conversation that effectively upended 2,000 years of Roman Catholic teachings.
"They were witty and cultured, but also very friendly—I really don't meet too many people like that," the pope said of the couple, who excitedly suggested to him several off-the-beaten-path sights and "to die for" restaurants after he mentioned an upcoming trip to Buenos Aires. "Craig has a great passion for Italian painting, and I learned a lot from him about the Church's collection of Caravaggios. He's a real Renaissance man."
"I know what scripture says about homosexuals, but when I stop to think about it, I can't get past the fact that the Bible is just a book, and Tony and Craig are real people," Benedict added. "Love is love. Man-woman, man-man, woman-woman—who cares? The Catholic Church recognizes it's not the Stone Age anymore."
Invited on a personal tour of the Vatican, Housinger and Ruggiero were said to have charmed the College of Cardinals with amusing anecdotes from their seven-year relationship, displaying a playful yet tender affection for each other that deeply moved the clergy.
High-ranking officials within the Holy See said they were pleased to learn both partners were practicing Catholics who attend mass regularly, and were surprised to discover Housinger was employed as a general contractor, a profession none of them considered gay at all.
According to reports, the highlight of the afternoon came when the couple shared photographs of their adopted 14-month-old Cambodian daughter, Lorraine, whom the swooning clergy universally described as "angelic."
"Even if you just meet Tony and Craig for a few minutes, it's easy to see how supportive and patient they are," said the Most Rev. Francesco Coccopalmerio, the Vatican's top expert on canon law, who noted the two partners have a stronger bond than some of the married couples he knows. "You can tell they've created a perfect household for a child to grow up in. I just wish everybody could be raised by parents as devoted and caring as them."
Following a warm farewell in which Ruggiero hugged Benedict—an incident the Holy Father described as "not even weird or anything"—Vatican leaders are said to have unanimously agreed that it was "completely hypocritical" for anyone, especially those who have taken a vow of celibacy, to tell people whom they can or cannot share their lives with.
"If Tony and Craig want to exchange vows before God and their friends and family, where's the harm in that?" Benedict said. "It's not as if they're offending the sanctity of life, like those wicked birth control users who will toil for all eternity in hellfire."