Pope Francis made headlines once again with another interview which has people around the globe hoping for possible change in the Catholic hierarchy’s position about lesbian and gay relationships. But, did his words really offer such hope?
Corriere della Sera, a major Italian daily, published the interview, which focused primarily on sex abuse, women, and contraception. Yet the pope did mention the idea of civil unions in answer to a question by the interviewer, Ferruccio deBortoli, the news paper’s editor in chief. Here is Zenit’s English translation of that section:
“Editor: Many countries have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?
“Holy Father: Marriage is between one man and one woman. The secular States want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of coexistence, spurred by the need to regulate economic aspects between persons as, for instance, to ensure healthcare. Each case must be looked at and evaluated in its diversity.”
Some journalists and bloggers have reported on this statement as a ringing endorsement of civil unions. For example, The Huffington Post reported the story:
“Pope Francis has signalled that he could see the Catholic church tolerating some forms of same-sex civil unions — though not marriage — when it comes to situations such as medical care and property for gay couples.”
And Catholic News Service stated:
“Bishops around the world have differed in their responses to civil recognition of nonmarital unions. The president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said in February 2013 that some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of nonmarried couples. But until now, no pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions.”
While true that no pope has made such a statement, further information indicates that he was not referring to same-sex civil unions. CNN reported that the Vatican press office provided additional information which indicates that the pope was not referring to same-sex couples:
“Later on Wednesday, a Vatican spokesman sought to clarify the Pope’s remarks.
” ‘The Pope did not choose to enter into debates about the delicate matter of gay civil unions,’ said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.
” ‘In his response to the interviewer, he emphasized the natural characteristic of marriage between one man and one woman, and on the other hand, he also spoke about the obligation of the state to fulfill its responsibilities towards its citizens.’
” ‘We should not try to read more into the Pope’s words than what has been stated in very general terms,’ Rosica added.”
Rosica also noted:
“By responding in this way, Pope Francis spoke in very general terms, and did not specifically refer to same-sex marriage as a civil union. Pope Francis simply stated the issues and did not interfere with positions held by Episcopal Conferences in various countries dealing with the question of civil unions and same sex marriage.”
While I don’t always trust “clarifications” made later by spokespeople, in this case, there was a certain amount of ambiguity in the original remarks that warrant such a follow-up. First, since the pope prefaced his comments about civil unions with a statement supporting matrimony as a heterosexual institution. So, it can seem that his support for civil unions was a support for same-sex couples.
Second, as an email correspondent has informed me, the Italian term the pope used, “unioni civili” refers to “people who are married by the state, outside of a religious context,” not to same-sex partnerships.
While I would be delighted if the pope expressed support for same-sex civil unions (and marriage, for that matter!), I’m not sure that he has done that in this interview. As has been noted before, he did support civil unions for same-sex couples when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Many other bishops, cardinals, and Vatican officials have also expressed support for same-sex civil unions over the past year or so.
Pope Francis certainly has gone further than any previous pope in trying to be positive towards people whose relationships are outside of the traditional heterosexual, nuclear family model, and he is to be commended for that. More importantly, even though he did not offer a ringing endorsement of same-sex relationships, at least he is not spouting condemnatory tirades against them as his two previous predecessors did. His refreshing new attitude still offers great hope for possibility and change in the future.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
dotCommonweal: Francis Hints About Same-Sex Civil Unions
Slate.com: Does Pope Francis Support Gay Civil Unions?
National Catholic Reporter: Francis marks anniversary with interview on sex abuse, women, contraception
QueeringTheChurch.com: Pope Francis Has NOT “Supported” Civil Unions – but Catholic Thinking Continues to Evolve
Advocate.com: Pope Francis Says Church Must Examine Civil Unions
Sydney Morning Herald: Pope Francis hints at Catholic Church rethink on gay civil unions