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Berlin, May 9 : Churches across Germany are planning services to bless same-sex couples this week, in defiance of a Vatican decree clarifying that such blessings are banned in the Catholic Church.

The Church of St Benedict in Munich is holding one of just four planned blessing Masses in the majority-Catholic state of Bavaria on Sunday, reports dpa news agency.

"It was not so easy to find a church," said Renate Spannig, spokesperson for the reform initiative Maria 2.0, which is co-organising the service.

Maria 2.0 is a grass-roots reform initiative, which among other things campaigns for greater roles for women in the Catholic Church.

The other three are set to take place in Wuerzburg.

Burkhard Hose, chaplain for the Catholic community of Wuerzburg Universities, began collecting signatures from people in the church shortly after the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a declaration in March that the Catholic Church does not have the authority to bless homosexual couples.

By signing, the roughly 2,600 signatories declared their willingness to continue blessing same-sex couples.

Under the motto 'liebege winnt' (love wins), a number of events are now planned around the main day of action on Monday, one week before the International Day against Homophobia.

Blessings are expected to take place in many cities and towns, including Munich, Wuerzburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Aachen and Berlin.

There is a clear focus on the north and west of the country.

Catholic priests in Germany have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Vatican ban and have said they want to bless all loving couples, whether gay or straight.

Lay members of the church have also expressed their opposition to the Vatican's stance.

President of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, Georg Baetzing, criticized the action, saying it was not "a way forward".

"Blessing services have their own theological dignity and pastoral significance. They are not suitable as instruments for ecclesiastical political manifestations or protest actions," he said.

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