Pope Francis’ Support of Civil Unions Is Part of a Growing Trend in Catholic Church

March 22, 2013

News reports that Pope Francis supported civil unions as a compromise strategy when he was archbishop in Argentina have given hope to LGBT-affirming Catholics that he may be a pope who will be willing to soften the hard line that the Vatican has taken on the issue of marriage equality and same-gender relationships under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

If Pope Francis does institute the same policy as pope that he promoted in Argentina,  he will be in good company with other bishops around the globe on this matter.  As Bondings 2.0 has been reporting over the last year or so,  there has been a growing trend of more openness to same-gender relationships, including civil union support, by a number of bishops and church leader from various nations.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Bondings 2.0 has been taking note of this trend since December 2011, when Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, supported the idea of civil unions in the United Kingdom’s marriage equality debate.   At about the same time, Fr. Frank Brennan, a Jesuit law professor in Australia, wrote an essay supporting the idea of civil unions, too.  Just last month, the bishops of England and Wales, in commenting on the marriage bill there, praised same-gender parents:

 “We recognise that many same sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes.”

Bishop Pa0lo Urso, of Ragusa, Italy, also gave de facto support for civil unions in January 2013 when he stated:

“When two people, even if they’re the same sex, decide to live together, it’s important for the State to recognize this fact. But it must be called something different from marriage.”

Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini

Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini

Just over a year later, he was joined by Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini, in nearby Calabria, Italy, who supported legal protections for gay and lesbian couples, as long as the word “marriage” wasn’t used.

In the United States, the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supported a civil unions bill in March 2012, as a way to forestall marriage equality.   In their statement, the diocese said:

“The Diocese of Manchester consistently has opposed legislation that would establish civil unions. However, the proposed amendment to HB 437 falls into a category of legislation which the US Bishops have previously considered: bills in civil law which may not reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching, but which nonetheless provide an “incremental improvement” in the current law and a “step toward full restoration of justice.” (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 32)”

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Most recently, Archbishop Vincent Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, also supported legal protections short of marriage for gay and lesbian couples.  A news report stated:

“In his first Vatican press conference since his appointment as the Catholic church’s “minister” for family, Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of ‘cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,’ and that their number is growing.

“Paglia suggested that nations could find ‘private law solutions’ to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, ‘to prevent injustice and make their life easier.’ “

Though some claim that Paglia later backtracked from these statements, it seems that his later comments were simply a criticism of news reports which tried to make it sound like he had supported marriage equality, which it was clear he had not done.

Related to this trend of supporting civil unions as a political strategy is a newer trend by some bishops in speaking positively about gay and lesbian relationships.   This recent trend began in May 2012 when Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin, Germany, addressed a national gathering of Catholics, stating:

“When two homosexuals take responsibility for one another, if they deal with each other in a faithful and long-term way, then you have to see it in the same way as heterosexual relationships.”

Cardinal rainer maria woelki

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

Woelki re-affirmed his position in an interview with Die Zeit magazine, in which he stated:

“ ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,’ the Catechism says about people with homosexual tendencies. If I take that seriously, I can’t merely see homosexual relationships as a ‘violation of natural law,’ as the Catechism puts it. I should also try to perceive it as people permanently taking  responsibility for one another, being loyal and willing to take care of each other, even if I can’t agree with such a lifestyle.”

Early in 2013,  the French bishops conference went public with a statement opposing marriage equality, but which spoke very favorably of gay and lesbian relationships.  For example, they stated:

“The diversity of homosexual practices must not hinder us from taking seriously the aspirations of those men and women who wish to engage in a stable bond. . . .

“The Catholic Church calls the faithful to live such a relationship in chastity but she recognizes, beyond the one sexual aspect, the value of solidarity, of the attention and care of the other which can manifest itself in a lasting affective relationship.”

You can read relevant excerpts from this document provided in English translation here, thanks to Bondings 2.0 reader Tom Luce.

Bishop Scicluna

Bishop Charles Scicluna

Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta spoke in a similar vein about same gender relationships in February 2012. The bishop made his remarks in response to an anti-gay letter written to him by a Mr. Joe Zammit:

“Bishop Scicluna maintained that ‘Gay people are not called to marriage which is the permanent union between one man and one woman open to the gift of parenthood,’ but then added, ‘they are indeed called to chaste friendship and chaste friendship is chaste love.’

“ ‘To say, as Mr Zammit keeps harping, that “there can never be love but only lust between homosexuals” is to deny the truth of what the Church teaches.’ . . .

You can find a video of Bishop Scicluna’s comments here.

All of  these items indicate a definite trend toward a more positive approach on same-gender marriage that is percolating among the hierarchy.  Although none oppose the traditional teaching on marriage, these moves indicate a willingness to move away from harsh rhetoric, as well as looking for ways to accommodate legal protections for families headed by same-gender couples.

The recent report that Cardinal Bergoglio had supported civil unions can offer some hope that now as pope he will do the same.  I would be more hope-filled if his statements reflected some of the more positive messages that some of the bishops reported on above had made about the goodness of gay and lesbian relationships.  The report of his proposed compromise makes me wonder if he was motivated by political pragmatism in an effort to prevent marriage equality or a moral duty to protect lesbian and gay couples.  I think the hope for the future may be in the fact that the trend among bishops for a  more positive framing of lesbian and gay relationships will flourish more openly under a pope who, for whatever reason, has already been willing to drop the traditional hard line.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Italian Bishop States His Support for Civil Unions for Lesbian and Gay Couples

December 20, 2012

An Italian bishop has stated his support for civil unions, though not for marriage, for same-gender couples.

 

Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini

Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini

GayStarNews.com reported that Bishop Giuseppe Fiorini Morosini, of the Locri-Gerace diocese in Calabria (the southernmost part of Italy), has written a letter to his churches where he stated:

“same-sex couples should have their civil rights recognized.”

He also added:

“However, same-sex couples are not families. We can not give them the right to a regular marriage. . . .A marriage is a union between a man and a woman, but every couple should have civil rights.”

While this may not sound like earth-shaking news, it is interesting to note that over the past year, we have seen a small trend among some Catholic leaders (and conservative political leaders, too) to support civil unions as an alternative to marriage.

For example, the diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, ended up supporting a bill in the state legislature which would have instituted civil unions as an alternative to marriage.  Similarly, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London), England stated his support for civl unions at the end of 2011.  In May of this year, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Berlin, Germany, said that he thought homosexual and heterosexual couples should be treated similarly by the church.

More importantly, Bishop Morosini’s comments differ markedly from an Archdiocese of Milan spokesperson who, in July, said that establishing a civil union registry in that Italian city would lead to polygamy.

No, the earth isn’t shaking because of Bishop Morosini’s comments, but taken in the context of these previous statements from other church leaders, I think we are witnessing the beginning of some kind of shift.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Berlin Cardinal Re-Affirms His Support for Lesbian and Gay Relationships

July 10, 2012

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

Cardinal Rainer Woelki of Berlin has re-affirmed his support for same-sex relationships which he made at a German conference of Catholic lay people back in May.

London’s Tablet magazine, an international Catholic periodical, reports:

“The Church must rethink its approach to remarried divorcees and gay relationships, the world’s youngest cardinal has said.

“Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, 55, made his comments in an interview with the German weekly Die Zeit and said that while the Orthodox Church considers only the first marriage sacramentally valid, divorce and a second marriage is tolerated. Asked whether this could be a model for the Catholic Church, he replied that the Church should talk about it.

Commenting on gay men in relationships he said he tried not to see them as just violating natural law but as people trying to take responsibility for each other in lasting partnerships. ‘We must find a way of allowing people to live without going against church teaching,’ he said.”

Mark deVries, a Dutchman who blogs at In  Caelo et in Terra (In Heaven and on Earth), has translated the relevant passage into English:

“ ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,’ the Catechism says about people with homosexual tendencies. If I take that seriously, I can’t merely see homosexual relationships as a ‘violation of natural law,’ as the Catechism puts it. I should also try to perceive it as people permanently taking  responsibility for one another, being loyal and willing to take care of each other, even if I can’t agree with such a lifestyle. The lifestyle that we, as the Catholic Church, stand for, is the sacramental marriage between one man and one woman, open to the transmission of life. I have also said this at the Catholic Day in Mannheim, immediately before the passage you quoted.”

deVries disagrees that this statement is an endorsement of lesbian and gay relationships.  He states:

“Reading this, I think it is unfair to see Cardinal Woelki’s earlier statement as an acceptance or even endorsement of homosexual relationships. He says clearly that he is unable to agree with this lifestyle. But, and this is the key, he does emphasise an important element of our dealings with people or situations that we don’t agree with. This element is love, as the catechism quote also hints at. Through love, we can see the good in situations which are “intrinsically disordered”, meaning that in their nature they are contrary to natural law. But, as Jesus has shown us, love trumps all, so even in these situations, love can shine through. Does that mean that homosexual acts and relations cease to be disordered? No, they don’t. But, as the Catechism and the cardinal indicate, we must acknowledge the fact that love, loyalty, responsibility and care can be present in this lifestyle.”

I think that deVries’ argument actually makes the point that Woelki does endorse same-gender relationships.  By noting that the love relationship matters more than sexual activity, deVries is pointing out that Woelki’s thinking is more in line with theologians, like the recently censured Sr. Margaret Farley, who argue that the quality of a relationship and the presence of love in a relationship should be our standards for moral judgement.

As we stated previously, Cardinal Woelki’s comments are a breath of fresh air and part of a growing trend to give some positive acknowledgment of  same-gender relationships from some high-ranking clerics in the church.  May the discussion continue in this vein.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways  Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Cardinal Basil Hume on Love

May 22, 2012

In light of the recent statement in favor of same-gender relationships made by Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki,  a friend provided a historical precedent by sending along this quotation, made 17 years ago by London’s Cardinal Basil Hume:

“Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected… When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next…  To love another, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to have entered the area of the richest human experience…” (Cardinal Basil Hume, Note on the Teaching of the Catholic Church Concerning Homosexual People, 1995).

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Giant, Hopeful Step in the Direction of Full Equality

May 22, 2012

Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki

A different translation of Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki’s comments about the equality of homosexual and heterosexual relationships offers a slight shift in the understanding of the Berlin archbishop’s message reported here on May 20th, though, as far as I can understand, it is still a very hopeful message.  First, I’ll explain the translation issue and then explain why I think it is still hopeful.

Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, alerted me to a blog by Daniel Silliman, who posted a variation on the translation of Woelki’s comments.  Silliman’s post translates Woelki’s remarks, reported in The Deutche Presse-Agentur, the largest news organization in Germany, in this way:

“The Berlin Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki considers it possible that the Catholic Church will soften its strict position against gays and lesbians in the long term …. It is conceivable that the criteria will be refined. He considers it is imaginable that, ‘where people take responsibility for each other, where they live and practice a longterm/permanent  homosexual relationship, that that is to be regarded in a similar way [emphasis mine] as a heterosexual relationship,’ Woelki said on Thursday at the Catholic Congress in Mannheim.
“However, no one can expect a quick change of heart from the Church on this question. There will be no quick fixes, such a process could take a long time. Above all, this would not change it, that the marriage between man and woman for the Catholic church has a special rank, emphasized Woelki. . . .
“The Magisterium of the Catholic Church must deal with such developments. Unfortunately, this often takes a long time, and would not help people living today, said Woelki.”
The biggest difference here is whether Woelki’s comparison phrase is translated “in a similar way” or “in the same way.”  While there is certainly a difference between these translations, I still believe that even if the weaker one is more correct, it is still a giant step forward from the usual absolutist approach most church leaders take that no change can ever possibly take place in the area of homosexual relationships.
What’s more important, as I pointed out the other day, is that Woelki’s acknowledgement of the possibility of change is part of a trend I’ve noticed in the last six months where prelates are finding ways to make concessions about civilly legal ways to recognize committed same-gender relationships.   These concessions are in direct contradiction to the Vatican’s 2003 document “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons”  which stated:
“Where the government’s policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.”
 Cardinal Woelki’s comments (even in the translation which weakens the comparison to heterosexual unions)  and the comments of the other bishops cited in my previous post ignore this document’s injunction not to approve of homosexual acts and they certainly do not state clearly “the immoral nature of these unions,” but instead do quite the opposite.
I hope that my post on May 20th did not give the impression that I believed that equality for heterosexual and homosexual relationships in the Catholic Church was just around the corner.   That was not my intention.  Even without knowing of Woelki’s comments that such a change might take a long time, I was still under the impression that such would be the case.  For example, while I rejoice that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia has called for a re-thinking of the church’s approach to sexual ethics,  I am not going to hold my breath until that happens.  Yet, it is still a giant step in the rigtht direction that a bishop has issued such a call.
The cause for rejoicing in Woelki’s statement is that a Cardinal of the Church has acknowledged goodness in same-gender relationships and has compared them to marriage–unlike comparing them to addiction, bestiality, and other human frailties or perversions, as some of his brother bishops have been known to do.  Knowing that one Cardinal–especially one who may not see full equality between heterosexual and homosexual relationships as ideal–can make such a positive comparison indicates that the hierarchy of the church can indeed work for change in this area of doctrine.
I thank Terence Weldon and Daniel Silliman for their clarifications.  I invite readers to offer their thoughts on the Cardinal’s statement, and whether or not this news is seen as a sign of hope.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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