What to Make of Pope Francis’ Latest Comments on Marriage?

Until yesterday, I had wanted to write a hope-filled blog post about Pope Francis’ visit to the Philippines this weekend.  On Wednesday and Thursday, I had been reading articles about the great expectation for his visit building in this nation with the third largest Catholic population in the world (behind Brazil and Mexico, and followed by the U.S.).  There has been much good news lately about Filipino church leaders speaking out for LGBT people.

Pope Francis addressing the meeting of families in Pasay City, Philippines

But then yesterday, the news broke that in one of his talks in the Philippines, Pope Francis decried the “ideological colonization” of the family, of which journalist John Allen said that a Vatican spokesman told him that “at least in part, the pope had gay marriage in mind.”

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter provided the details of the statement, made at a meeting of families:

“Saying that God is calling people to ‘recognize the dangers threatening our own families,’ Francis stated, ‘There is an ideological colonization we have to be careful of that tries to destroy the family.’

“Obliquely referencing historical colonization of the Philippines and his native Argentina, he continued: ‘Just as our peoples were able to say no to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and very strong with fortitude to say no to these initiatives of colonization that could destroy the family.’ “

Later in the story, McElwee reported on the pope’s elaboration of these ideas:

” ‘The pressures on family life today are many,’ Francis said. ‘The economic situation has caused families to be separated by migration and the search for employment, and financial problems strain many households.’

He continued: ‘The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.’ “

In the same talk, he praised Pope Paul VI’s birth control encyclical, Humanae Vitae, but also urged pastors to be compassionate in particular cases.

What to make of this development, especially since it comes just about two months after the Vatican hosted a conference on male/female complementarity in sexuality, where the pope publicly praised the concept which many see as sexist and irrelevant to authentic discussions of sexual relationships?

John Allen wrote that while many saw Pope Francis as a progressive at the last synod, and that some feared he was stacking the deck for the next synod to align with liberal notions.  Allen’s response:

“In light of the pope’s comments in the Philippines, those conclusions may have to be rethought.”

Allen may be right that for some people, both on the right and on the left, their vision of Pope Francis as a liberal is severely challenged by his recent remarks.  But Francis, while much more progressive in many ways than the previous two popes, had never really stated firmly that he supported same-gender marriage.  The furthest he had gone was to support civil unions as an alternative to marriage when he was an archbishop in Argentina, and to make a vague reference in an interview last spring to being open to the possibility of legal civil unions, though it was unclear if he meant this for heterosexual couples as an alternative to marriage or to lesbian and gay couples as a form of civil protection.

My response to the pope’s recent comments focus more on his use of the words “ideological colonization.”  That to me is more problematic than a negative assessment of marriage equality, which I did not think he ever supported.  “Ideological colonization” invokes a political framework of imposing outside values by force.  There are two reasons why that is problematic.

First, most Catholics who support marriage equality do so because they are motivated by their faith. It is not an ideological or political stand for them.  They believe in the equality of lesbian and gay people, they see their committed relationships as holy, natural, and wholesome, and they want the children in those families to be protected.  These are not ideological concerns, and they are not based in relativism.

Second, “colonization” seems to refer to statements by some African members of the hierarchy who have erroneously stated that homosexuality is not native to their countries, but brought in by Westerners.  Of course, this is not true at all, as homosexuality has existed in all cultures.  If colonialists brought anything in this regard, it was homophobia.

There is a burgeoning LGBT movement in the Philippines, and one of the reasons I was hopeful earlier in the week was that I read a news report that a coalition of LGBT organizations had written an open letter asking the pope to meet with them.   What is interesting about the letter is that there is no mention of marriage equality in it.  They wanted to meet with him to discuss stigma, bullying, assault, disease, and dehumanization, among other problems they have.  Wouldn’t it have been great if the pope met with this group and listened, rather than speaking words which do not reflect the truth about LGBT lives?

Pope Francis could also have met with Filipino pastoral workers who do outreach to LGBT people.  The New York Times reported:

“The church has also become more tolerant of those whose lifestyles conflict with church teachings on social issues.

“ ‘Gay people and people who are living with a partner outside of marriage worship and serve in our parish, said Joseph Zaldivar, a seminarian at the Archdiocese of Manila. ‘They are welcomed.’

“He said that message had reached parishes around the country.”

Or he could have spoken to one lesbian couple who were married in a non-denominational church in the Philippines on the day that the pope arrived there.

The hallmark of Francis’ papacy has not been his outreach to LGBT people, though indeed that has been more marked than his predecessors.  The hallmark has been his openness to dialogue and discussion.  He should have followed his own principles and been a listener in the Philippines, rather than a talker.

And finally, the teaching against birth control and the teaching against same-sex relationships both spring from the principle that all sexual acts should be open to procreation.  If Pope Francis is willing to consider individual cases in regards to birth control, as he said in this speech, couldn’t the same direction be given in regards to lesbian and gay couples?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

ABS-CBN News: “Little hope of Roman Catholic revolution”

Reuters:  “Pope says ‘ideological colonization’ threatens the traditional family”

CNN: “Philippines welcomes the Pope”

GLAAD.org blog: “Pope Francis called marriage equality ‘ideological colonization’ to destroy family”

Advocate.com: “Pope Calls Same-Sex Marriage a ‘Threat’ to the Family”

21 Responses to What to Make of Pope Francis’ Latest Comments on Marriage?

  1. bwelch3 says:

    Calling same-sex marriage a “threat” to marriage and including the reference to the “ideological colonization of the family” sound more like words coming from one of his octet of advisory cardinals.”

  2. Tom Luce says:

    Hi Francis and New Ways friends,

    It has been a year or more since I wrote any replies. But I do read your posts along with Colin Stewart’s “76Crimes” which for some reason comes through New Ways.

    It was after Dec. 15, 2013, the 50th anniversary of my ordination in Rome during the Vatican Council (II!), that I decided that I would embrace Thomas Paine’s “Deism” that is now promoted as the World Union of Deists (deism.com) and I challenged my catholic peers and friends to address the credibility issue of the catholic church. I was driven to this because of my homosexual nature and the fact that the catholic church is still the source of much fanaticism against us. This is true, of course, of all religions. Which is why I promote Deism. I had tried to promote a mechanism for dialog among catholics, The Galileo Commission, in which we would –priests/bishops, no matter, but as equals, believers, lovers all–agree to find ways to do the “least harm” to one another as we examined the differences over sexuality held still. This “least harm” mode I first heard about from Cardinal Be a back during Vat II when catholics–imagine!–began talking about doing ecumenism seriously. My understanding about sexuality is from my own life, but also from science. If the officials want to continue to try to defend the church’s teaching, fine, but stop all the fanaticism. We can respect the official church and not condemn it in return. However, even though Exodus has folded, Courage is still promoted. And the murder of Eric Lembembe in Cameroon has yet to be condemned by the church.

    So along comes Brother Bergoglio and his soaring popularity over the variety of “progressive” stances. At the time I questioned why groups like New Ways would so simply relate to this man who was given the same clothes as all previous supreme autocrats in this patriarchal, bible/fable based belief system/monarchy. Instead I have not seen much church reform going on–yeah the ACC and other groups are still at it—but no real action to effect real change.

    Sorry but notwithstanding all the wonderful loving work for justice in this world done by so many catholics–it’s this institution that is unworthy of being supported without radical reform. Worrying about whether Brother Bergoglio will or will not come round to the truth of homosexuality is not worthy of us.

    As I write in my blog , I’m not asking catholics to abandon the church, just at least admit that this church, as with slavery and scientists like Galileo, has been literally killing us LGBTQI. No amount of apologies will suffice. But adopting mechanisms that eliminate fable books from establishing our nature and that make real solid reparations.

    Even though this sounds somewhat desperate and even somewhat like a tongue-lashing, I do love you all!

    Best wishes for the coming year. And thank you for the good work that you do.

    Tom Luce

  3. Anton says:

    How about the “colonization” of LGBT persons? There seems to be so much fear that LBGT people will influence straight people to become gay. For centuries straight people had everything to say and sway, and yet they couldn’t influence LGBT people to be like them, that is other than they are by nature. Why do these people think and believe that LGBT persons have more influence on straight people – so much so that they could change their nature? That is giving LGBT people a lot of power over God-given nature. I don’t think that will happen. People will still get together to produce children, including more LGBT people, who are created only by “straight sex.” If the whole world/all people were gay, straights would find themselves in the same/similar situation gays do today. How would they handle their difference from the majority? Wouldn’t it be the world situation in reverse? Brian McNaught had us imagine that decades ago. Visualizing that possibility/probability might help everyone see the situation more clearly.

  4. Problematic indeed, Frank. I think you’re right though to remind us that is simply not true that Pope Francis is a liberal or progressive on doctrinal issues. He’s not – but he is emphatically sensitive and realistic in pastoral terms. It follows that it is completely unrealistic to expect him to “approve” gay marriage. What we could hope for, in the short term, is greater sensitivity and recognition of the value of committed relationships – and respect for those who have chosen to formalize those relationships in legal marriage or civil unions. The road to full equality in church will be a long one – but at least we have started on the journey. Every step, every gain will take us closer, and make the next one easier.

    Like you, I’m more troubled by the term “colonization” of the family. Making the connection to the African bishop’s concerns is probably appropriate, but as you note, their concerns were based on a misapprehension that “homosexuality” was a colonial import. It was not. But there was another African false claim at the synod, where (I think) the term “colonization” was used, or implies – the claim that the West is trying to blackmail African governments into accepting gay marriage, with the treat of withholding aid. That claim is completely false – Western pressures have nothing to do with gay marriage, but concern only pressure over criminalization and outright persecution of gay people.

    That desire, to avoid and oppose persecution, should be strongly supported by Catholic bishops as a matter of faith. The fact that it is so badly misinterpreted and misrepresented by the African bishops is an example of what I have frequently warned about: Africans have such a strong horror of colonialism and anything that even appears to be a form of neo-colonialism, that they will suspect its presence where it does not in fact exist. The desire to promote gay rights in Africa is natural and good – but those in the West must be extremely sensitive to Africans own sensitivities – and apply serious thought and care in selecting our methods and language – or our good intentions can easily backfire and become counterproductive.

  5. Friends says:

    I share your concern and your disapointment, Francis. But I never really thought that any Pope would be willing to sacramentalize same-sex marriage within the time limits of the present century. I felt all along that what we were requesting was simply that civilly-married same-sex couples not be barred from Church membership and participation, simply because of their civil marriage. “This norm would apply equally to heterosexual couples and to gay couples who share legal civil marital relationships.” . If heterosexual couples who are civilly married (but not “Church-married”) are allowed to participate in all Church activities, why shouldn’t civilly married same-sex couples also be allowed the same level of acceptance and participation? This is the ambiguity that needs to be clarified by the Vatican. Either ALL civilly-married (but not Church-married) Catholic couples have the right to participate in the Church’s liturgical activities; or else (by logical extension) NONE of them should have that right. Isn’t this the only reasonable conclusion? Pope Francis, for all that we love him, may not have “thought through” the full implications of his statement before making it. I think he needs to be pressed to clarify his actual meaning and intention.

    • Brian Kneeland says:

      Nobody asks the Catholic Church to sacramentalize our marriage – but we do ask that you not condemn it either. I am legally married to my husband (we have been together 15 years) and we consider our exchange of vows sacramental. Remember – the priest (bishop/cardinal/pope) is merely a witness. We had to have an Episcopal priest perform ours since our church won’t! Were we wrong? I think not. Is Francis wrong? I think so. Time to stop seeing us as a threat and start seeing same sex couples as a real mirror of what marriage can be. We do not enter into it lightly as so may heterosexual couples do and then divorce. My own archbishop thinks I am excommunicated – but I think he is wrong. My conscience knows he is wrong! What happened to conscience – oh yes, the church wants total control. Sorry – my masters in theology taught me other! Come on Pope Francis – love as Jesus does – and he does love us!

  6. […] text, or detailed reports of it, so withhold comment on the message itself, concerning marriage. Read instead, DeBenardo’s thoughts.  However, he does include a useful observation on the word “colonization” that this […]

  7. Gilles M says:

    Could It be that Francis is doing exactly what he is warning that others would be doing: defending the ideological colonization that the church has done on the natural love and coupling nature of human beings, straight or gay. Thus, imposing a “traditional” intellectual construct heavily influenced by sexually repressive elements, and devoid of the human reality of the affective and sexual nature of humans as we have come to know it through sciences to this day, instead insisting on antiquated so called Natural Law… maybe the equivalent of insisting that earth is indeed flat?…

  8. Larry says:

    I was hoping that we had left behind the use of mystifying words from the Popes that seem to me to mean something [that we have to parse] and nothing at the same time. Why complicate matters with terms like “ideological colonization”? Please Pope Francis be clear about what you are saying as in “Who am I to judge?” If you don’t then you just add to the confusion and leave the faithful floundering about what you mean. If you feel gay marriage is wrong then say it and at least we will know where we stand.

  9. […] is an “ideological colonization” of the family occurring, a statement this blog found more troubling than his criticism of marriage equality. Sam’s latest act is not a ‘colonization,’  but extends a liberating witness to […]

  10. It will become impossible to stand with the Catholic church unless they end the discrimination and marginalization of gay people. How will history judge us for staying with an institution that promotes such injustice to a specific group of people? Do we want to stand with these sinners? I do understand the desire to keep the doctrine “pure” and that the line in the sand for life must be unequivocal. However, by insisting that Catholics discriminate against LGBT individuals, couples and families, the church is keeping the conversation on the wrong subject. Our children–LGBT, straight–ALL children are in desperate need of guidance from the adults in matters of sexuality, intimacy, and family. The “hook up” culture that begins as young as middle school should be addressed, and not with the “just say no” curriculum. The human need for intimacy and love should be acknowledged and ways kids can seek real connection and intimacy must be modeled and taught. To say that all LGBT relationships are “intrinsically disordered” or whatever horrific words are being used makes Catholic adults totally discredited sources in the minds of our youth. The young people (and informed older people) know that LGBT people are just like everyone else. They seek love, intimacy, and meaningful connection. That is why they couple and form families. We are losing the entire area of guiding young people because of a few in the hierarchy insisting on rigid and outdated dogma. I do not want all of our children to be collateral damage in this ridiculous culture war. All people deserve dignity. All families deserve acknowledgment and support. And all innocent babies deserve to be baptized. Some Catholic priests will not baptize babies from LGBT families since they will not “raise the child in the church.” How hateful. How absurd. The Holy Spirit has spoken to many on this issue. But the collateral damage is too much. What are the next steps? Because it is certainly not Jesus Christ who is the problem. It is the power hungry and controlling hierarchy.

    • Larry says:

      I agree Annette that the Church looses [has lost] its moral authority when it ignores the realities of the lives of the flock and instead wants to impost top-down “theology”. It would be much better off and served Jesus better if it accepted the reality of LGBT love and focused on the morality of how we are to live our lives. I also wonder how many priests have baptized babies of straight couples knowing that that is the last time he will see any of them in church.

    • Tom Luce says:

      Brilliant, profound commentary, Annette.

      LGBTQI folk and their allies–friends, families–must be the ones to create a reformed church that has to first of all eliminate bible/fable based infallible teachings and the first teaching/tradition to go has to be the male hierarchy. The practice of slavery, condemning Galileo, and today LGBTQI folk simply is a tragic abuse of people’s desire to seek holiness.

      I would like to think that if, as stats tell us correctly, people in the pews as well as allies in the power structure simply sat down –protesting, withholding support etc, in love–and simply demanded these reforms, it could work and it would be what history would attribute as one of the major gifts to humanity.

      The Catholic church along with other religions has done and does great work in social justice/moral development. But with the history of evil continuing till today regarding those “evils” like homosexuality, something colossal has to take place.

      Reforming the power structure won’t be easy–even if it weren’t demanding reclassifying the bible and strictly catholic beliefs about God– because it is not just the “hierarchy”, Annette. A large percentage of “believers” support the “hierarchy” with their presence and their money. They see it is what they have to do until death to save “purity”. But that is why Blacks were enslaved, killed and still suffer discrimination. “Purity….”

      All power to you Annette. Please keep up the articulation!

  11. […] is his elaboration of a term he used at a conference of families in the Philippines on Friday:  “ideological colonization.”    It seems to me that Pope Francis’ explanation of this term can equally apply to […]

  12. […] with recent contrasts including his meeting with a transgender man while calling on Catholics to oppose ideological colonization while in the Philippines. While his welcoming words and pastoral moments are a breath of fresh air […]

  13. […] News, but the spokesperson also cited Pope Francis’ remarks about resisting “ideological colonization” during a recent visit to the country. As Bondings 2.0 previously reported, that comment […]

  14. […] direct statement was a resurfacing of the “ideological colonization” term spoken about during his visit to the Philippines earlier this […]

  15. […] Francis’ use of “ideological colonization” during his visit to the Philippines, the phrase “new forms of colonialism” is […]

  16. […] not legalized same-sex marriage.  In his January 2015 visit there, Pope Francis coined the term “ideological colonization” to refer to social and legal changes taking place in marriage, which many commentators saw as a […]

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