Catholic bishops on Friday played down the call of Pope Francis for governments to create laws to cover same-sex civil unions, saying this was merely his opinion and did not reflect the official policy of the Catholic Church.
Rev. Fr. Jerome Secillano, executive secretary of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said people jumped the gun on the Pope’s remarks, which were made in a documentary “Francesco.”
“Everything about it being now part of media narrative that puts emphasis on gay rights is expected. The remark is at best controversial, at least for the ‘confused’ public,” he said.
Fr. Francis Lucas, the president of the Catholic Media Network, said the Pope did not come out in favor of same-sex marriage.
“The Pope merely said ‘What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,’” Lucas said.
“There is no official statement issued by the Vatican that it is the stand of the Catholic Church,” he added. “This is not part of the doctrine today. It’s just an opinion from the Pope.”
Secillano said the Church cannot simply change a doctrine through a remark made in a documentary.
“Church's law and doctrine on marriage didn't change anyway. They remain the same. Meaning, marriage is between a man and woman. Our Constitution and existing laws also provide the same,” Secillano said.
“Pope Francis merely expressed an opinion regarding a very specific social issue, i.e., gay rights and their recognition. He talked of a pastoral approach on how to deal with the LGBTs and not a doctrinal re-definition of marriage. He did not say that marriage can now be between a man and a man or between a woman and a woman,” he added.
Under the Family Code of the Philippines, marriage is between a man and a woman.
Lawmakers pushing for a civil partnership bill in Congress such as Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleo Alvarez, Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera and Senator Imee Marcos, however, saw hope in the Pope’s remarks.
Herrera on Friday urged her colleagues in Congress to listen to Pope Francis.
“Let us heed the call of Pope Francis to defend and protect same-sex couples by allowing them to formalize their partnerships through civil unions,” Herrera said.
Herrera, a deputy majority leader, is the author of House Bill 1357, which allows same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships and be accorded the same legal rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples.
The bill has been pending before the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality, chaired by Herrera herself, since July 2019.
It faces strong opposition from conservative lawmakers who argue that same-sex union is not in accordance with the 1987 Constitution, the Family Code of the Philippines and “the law of God.”
Herrera said the Pope’s remarks would “definitely boost” efforts toward recognizing the right of same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.
“The Pope’s endorsement of same-sex civil union is a major advancement for equal rights in this country,” she said.
She also expressed her admiration to the Pope for his “courage to break from traditional Catholic teaching and champion the rights of homosexuals to establish a family of their own.”
Herrera agreed with Malacañang that even the most conservative of the Catholics in Congress should no longer have a basis for objecting to same-sex unions with no less than Pope Francis supporting them.
The Palace also stated that the recognition of civil union for same-sex couples has always been supported by President Rodrigo Duterte.
While being interviewed for the feature-length documentary “Francesco,” Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time, calling for the partnerships to be protected by law.
According to the head of the Roman Catholic Church, homosexuals are “children of God and have a right to a family.”
“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the Pope said.
Marcos expressed hope that the Senate will now hear her proposed measure on instituting a property regime for cohabiting same sex partners with the backing of Pope Francis of same-sex union.
“Amen. I hope there will be a hearing on my hearing SBN 417 which recognizes civil union as mentioned by Pope Francis,” Marcos said.
But Senate President Vicente Sotto III, a conservative who opposed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012, said it was doubtful that lawmakers would become more open to passing bills for same-sex civil union despite the Pope’s remarks.
Sotto said same-sex unions are “already being practiced here and there is nothing we can do about it.”
“It’s just tolerated but not in the legal sense. We should leave it at that,” he added.