"While homosexuals have a right to a family, it does not mean that the Pope approves of homosexual acts."
Twenty-nine countries presently recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry. Another 17 countries allow for civil unions for same-sex partners. All in all that is a total of 43 states that have legislated the right of partnership between persons of the same sex. This represents 22 percent of all countries around the world.
Recently, Pope Francis sent shockwaves by expressing support for civil unions for same-sex couples.
This stands in stark contrast to the document, “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons” issued in 2003 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who later on became Pope Benedict XVI.
The Considerations affirm that: “The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.” According to the said Church document, “Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity.”
At face value, it may seem that Pope Francis has practically shifted the Church’s teaching against same-sex civil unions. In his comments, taken from the recently released documentary, “Francesco,” the pope said, “Homosexuals have a right to be in the family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out of the family or have a miserable life because of it (homosexuality). We need to have a law of civil union (literally: civil coexistence). They (homosexuals) have a right to be legally covered (i.e., protected). I defended this.”
While the Pope’s comments has caused an uproar among many conservatives in the Catholic Church, it is important to know what he really said, and understand what he really meant.
First, it is important to know the circumstances behind the production of the film. The director, Evygeny Afineeysky, at first sought an interview with Pope Francis. Contrary to his initial claims that the Pope made his comments directly to him, Afineeysky’s request was declined, and instead he was referred to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, which allowed him extensive access to its television archives.
The comments originally came from an interview conducted in 2019 by Vatican reporter Valentina Alazraki for the Mexican broadcaster Televisa. The said interview, however, shows that the Pope did not uttered these statements consecutively, and he had been referring to the right of gay people to be accepted into their own families. Short of sheer manipulation, the documentary “Francesco” had now presented these comments as a cohesive whole, in support of same-sex civil unions.
It seems now that the “bombshell” that the Pope dropped was but old news.
The Pope was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires when same-sex marriage was first proposed in Argentina in 2010. Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio clearly spoke against gay marriages. In a letter to the cloistered nuns, he wrote, “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family. At stake is the identity and survival of the family: Father, mother and children. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”
In a conversation with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, which was later on published in 2013 as a book entitled, “On Heaven and Earth,” then-Cardinal Bergoglio argued that laws “assimilating” homosexual relationships to marriage are “an anthropological regression,” and he expressed concern that if same-sex couples “are given adoption rights, there could be affected children. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.”
While the legal recognition of same-sex marriage was being deliberated in Argentina, then-Cardinal Bergoglio silently hinted his preference for extending legal civil union protection to same-sex couples, which was already in effect in his country, as an alternative to the moves to approve same-sex marriage, which he firmly opposed.
It is important to understand the context of the Pope’s recent statement on same-sex civil unions and to consider what else he has said on the matter.
In 2017, in a book-length interview, the Pope explained: “Marriage between people of the same sex? ‘Marriage’ is a historical word. Always in humanity, and not only within the Church, it’s between a man and a woman. We cannot change that. This is the nature of things. This is how they are. Let’s call them ‘civil unions.’ Let’s not play with the truth. It’s true that behind it there is a gender ideology. But let’s say things as they are: Marriage is between a man and a woman. This is the precise term. Let’s call unions between the same sex ‘civil unions.’”
Pope Francis then is very clear about his position on same-sex unions. It is not something he believes to be ideal in itself, but is clearly to be preferred over same-sex “marriages.” In his recent apostolic exhortation, “Amoris Laetitia” the Pope made it very clear that “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 the family.”
But why the shift in language on civil unions?
What the Pope has said is an example of a reasonable prudential judgement—very much similar to the “pastoral accompaniment” that he proposed for divorced Catholics.
Pope Francis makes it clear that while homosexuals have a right to a family, it does not mean he approves of homosexual acts. Thus, his openness to civil unions for homosexual couples in no way signals a change in Catholic doctrine or moral teaching.
Since same-sex marriages are already a reality in today’s society, the Pope simply points out that the Church must deal with its pastoral consequences, including taking a sound pastoral approach for homosexual persons, including affirming their human dignity, and consequently, upholding their right to legal protection in the civil order.
This is not surprising for a Pope who once said, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”