Another Vatican Official Endorses Civil Unions

April 23, 2013

It’s becoming so common that it almost seems “un-newsworthy.”   Yet another church prelate has announced his support for civil unions for lesbian and gay couples.

Archbishop Piero Marini

Archbishop Piero Marini

This latest announcement is particularly important because it comes from another Vatican official, Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.  In February, Archbishop Vincent Paglia,  head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, also announced his support for civil unions.

John Allen of The National Catholic Reporter reports that Marini revealed his support in an interview with La Nacion newspaper in Costa Rica, which just closed a Eucharistic Congress. Here’s the relevant part of the interview (translated by The National Catholic Reporter):

“Q: Costa Rica has opened a discussion about what it means to be a secular state. What do you think of these decisions?

A: This is already a reality in Europe. A secular state is fine, but if it turns into a secularist state, meaning hostile to the Catholic Church, then there’s something wrong. Church and state should not be enemies to one another. In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized. What can’t be recognized is that this [union] is equivalent to marriage.” (emphasis mine)

(John Allen’s blog post contains the entire English translation of the interview; for the original Spanish-language version of the interview, click here.)

We have in this statement, the familiar caution that civil unions should not be considered equal to marriage, which may put a damper on this development, However, I’ve argued before, viewed in context, the approval of civil unions is really a giant step forward.  No one would have guessed even a year ago that there would possibly be so much growing support for civil unions among the hierarchy.  For a list of recent statements by bishops and cardinals, click here.

Of course, the most newsworthy recent announcement of civil unions support came with the revelation that when Pope Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he supported the idea of civil unions as a compromise.  John Allen provides some interesting background to this piece of news:

“On March 19, TheNew York Times reported that when Argentina was gearing up for a bitter national debate on gay marriage in 2009 and 2010, Bergoglio quietly favored a compromise solution that would have included civil unions for same-sex couples.

“That report was denied by Miguel Woites, director of the Argentinian Catholic Information Agency, a news outlet linked to the Buenos Aires archdiocese. Woites insisted Bergoglio would ‘never’ have favored any legal recognition of same-sex unions and said the Times report was a ‘complete error.’

“In early April, however, a senior official in the Argentine bishops’ conference told NCR that Bergoglio did, in fact, favor civil unions.

“Mariano de Vedia, a veteran journalist for Argentina’s leading daily, told NCR he could confirm Bergoglio’s position had been correctly described in the Times account.

“Guillermo Villarreal, a Catholic journalist in Argentina, said it was well known at the time that Bergoglio’s moderate position was opposed by Archbishop Héctor Rubén Aguer of La Plata, the leader of the hawks. The difference was not over whether to oppose gay marriage, but how ferociously to do so and whether there was room for a compromise on civil unions.

“Villareal described the standoff over gay marriage as the only vote Bergoglio ever lost during his six years as president of the conference.”

Perhaps most interesting is Allen’s reporting of a speculation of how Pope Francis might react in the future to the idea of civil unions, now that he is in Rome:

“Speaking today on an Italian cable news network, church historian Alberto Melloni, seen as a voice of the progressive wing of Italian Catholicism, predicted that ‘sooner or later, this openness [to civil unions] will arrive in the magisterium of the pope.’ However, Melloni also said he believes Francis will move with ‘caution’ and ‘prudence.’ “

With the number of bishops speaking out for civil unions, especially those right in the Vatican, perhaps Francis won’t have to be as cautious as Melloni supposes.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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


Vatican Official Calls for Protections for Same-Gender Couples

February 5, 2013

Over the course of the past year or so, we’ve witnessed a slow evolution in Catholic hierarchical thinking on marriage for same-gender couples.  Recently in France and Great Britain, bishops’ groups  have spoken more positively about same-gender couples than they had before.  In Germany and Italy, individual bishops have made positive statements about same-gender couples.  Even here in the U.S., Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George made surprisingly positive statement about love between people of the same gender, even though he opposed Illinois’ marriage bill.

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Today, the positive statement on same-gender relationships comes from the Vatican itself.  The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“A high-ranking Vatican official on Monday voiced support for giving unmarried couples some kind of legal protection even as he reaffirmed the Catholic church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, also said the church should do more to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

“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.’ “

Paglia also spoke forcefully opposing discrimination and criminalization of homosexuality:

“Responding to journalists’ questions, Paglia also strongly condemned discrimination against gay people, who he said ‘have the same dignity as all of God’s children’

” ‘In the world there are 20 or 25 countries where homosexuality is a crime,’ he said. ‘I would like the church to fight against all this.’ “

While these positive remarks are welcome, it must also be said that Paglia still strongly opposed marriage equality:

” ‘The church must defend the truth, and the truth is that a marriage is only between a man and a woman,’ he said. Other kinds of ‘affections’ cannot be the foundation for a ‘public structure’ such as marriage.

” ‘We cannot surrender to a sick egalitarianism that abolishes every difference,’ he warned, and run the risk of society becoming a new ‘Babel.’ “

Despite the continued intransigence on marriage equality,  I think it is important to note that the archbishop’s comments represent a giant step forward in terms of Vatican recognition of same-gender couples.  Even just a month ago, when the pope made harsh statements against same-gender relationships in his World Peace Day message, one could not have imagined a Vatican official making such positive comments as Paglia did.  His comments are a small change, but all change happens little by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A New Saint for Those Who Long for Reforming the Catholic Church

September 2, 2012

 

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini

For those who work and hope for a Catholic Church that is more welcoming and inclusive of LGBT people, and more in line with the spirit of Vatican II, there’s a new saint in heaven to intercede.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Montini,  former archbishop of Milan and once talked of as a possible successor to John Paul II, has died at the age of 85.  In his final interview, published a day after his death on August 31st,  he declared that the church is 200 years behind the times.

CNN’s Religion Blog  reports the cardinal’s quote:

” ‘The Church has remained 200 years behind the times. Why has it not been shaken up?” Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said in an interview published in Saturday’s Corriere dell Sera newspaper. ‘Are we scared? Fear instead of courage? However, faith is the fundamental to the church.’ “

The New York Times reported Martini’s further explanation of this quote from the same interview:

“ ‘Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,’ Cardinal Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“ ‘The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops,’  he said in the interview. ‘The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.’ ”

Cardinal Martini made headlines earlier this year when in a separate interview, he called for a change in the church’s opposition to civil unions.  In May, Bondings 2.0 reported his statement from a book-length interview with the cardinal, entitled Credere e  Cognoscere (Faith and Understanding): 

“I do not agree with the positions of those in the Church who takes issue with civil unions.”

QueeringTheChurch.com blog carried English translations of the interview.  Though Cardinal Martini defended traditional marriage in the interview, he saw the need for allowing for civil unions:

“. . . if the State grants some benefits to homosexuals, I would not be too concerned. The Catholic Church, for its part, promotes partnerships that are beneficial for the continuation of the human species and its stability, and yet it is not right to express any discrimination for other types of unions.”

In the same interview, he praised the possibility of recognizing same-sex relationships as good:

” . . . I am ready to admit that in some cases good faith, lived experiences, acquired habits, the unconscious and probably even a certain innate inclination can push one to choose for oneself a form of living with a partner of the same sex. In today’s world such behaviour cannot therefore be ostracised or demonized. I am also ready to admit the value of a loyal and lasting friendship between two persons of the same sex. Friendship has always been held in high honour in the ancient world, perhaps more so than today, although it was largely understood as part of that surpassing of the purely physical realm that I mentioned above, to be a union of minds and hearts.”

He also made allowance for the use of condoms as a way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS:

“One must do everything to fight AIDS, as I have argued on many occasions and as we wrote in our previous dialogue in 2006. Certainly the use of condoms can constitute in certain situations a lesser evil. Then there is the particular situation of spouses, one of whom is infected with AIDS. One is obliged to protect the other partner who likewise should be able to protect himself or herself. But the question rather is, should it be the case that religious authorities promote such a means of defence, almost holding that other morally sustainable means, including abstinence, be sidelined, while risking the promotion of an irresponsible attitude? The principle of lesser evil is one thing, applicable in all cases provided for by ethical doctrine, another thing altogether the matter of who is to express such things publicly.

“I believe that prudence and consideration of different situations will permit everyone to contribute effectively to the fight against AIDS without fostering, in this way, irresponsible behaviour.”

Let’s pray that Cardinal Martini intercede for the church, and that Catholics will be renewed to reform the church in the way that Cardinal Martini saw as the only possible alternative:  love.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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