At Bondings 2.0, Frank DeBenardo makes an intriguing claim about Pope Francis – that he has made ” a declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples”. He bases this on an extract from a conversation between the pope and a French sociologist, one of a series of 12 which will soon be published in book form.
Extracts from these conversations, including the one referring to civil unions, have been published at Crux:
“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.’ Lets not play with the truth. It’s true that behind it there is a gender ideology. In books also, children are learning that they can choose their own sex. Why is sex, being a woman or a man, a choice and not a fact of nature? This favors this mistake. But let’s say things as they are: Marriage is between a man and a woman. This is the precise term. Lets call unions between the same sex ‘civil unions’.”
DeBenardo’s response at Bondings 2.0 is to read this as an endorsement of civil unions:
For the most part, this section is not surprising. On many occasions, Pope Francis has stated his opposition to marriage for lesbian and gay people. And he is also on the record for being negative towards new understandings of gender identity, though positive about welcoming transgender people.
What’s new here, however, is his declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples. Although many church leaders have suggested supporting such an arrangement in recent years, Pope Francis has never, as pontiff, stated his endorsement of civil unions so flatly.
Is this really a ” declarative endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples”? I’d love to think so, but I’m not convinced. As I read the passage quoted in Crux, all he has done is make a statement about language. As a simple statement of fact, he obviously recognises that that these same-sex legal partnerships exist. He does not want them to be described as marriage, and would prefer them to be called civil unions. That does not imply that he supports them.
It is of course possible that he does support civil unions. DeBenardo notes that “He did support civil unions as a compromise to his opposition towards marriage equality when he was an archbishop in Argentina.” This is true. As pontiff, there have also been numerous hints that he supports greater acceptance of same-sex unions, possibly including legal recognition and fuller participation for same-sex couples in the life of the church. It is quite possible that he does indeed support civil unions – but this is not spelled out in the text quoted. Sadly, all that is clear in the passage directly concerning the pope’s attitude to same-sex unions, is once again clear opposition to same-sex marriage.
And yet, it’s not all bad news. As in “Amoris Laetitia”, there are encouraging thoughts which are relevant for LGBT Catholics, while not referring to us exclusively or by name. First, there is an admission of value in the lay state.
“The lay state is a healthy thing. There is a healthy laicism. Jesus said: We must render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God. We are the same before God.
This could well imply at least, respect for civil unions as a matter of law. Then there’s also an important observation about the place of the laity, in the church:
“But the Church is not bishops, popes, and priests. The Church is the people. And Vatican II said: ‘The people of God, as a whole, do not err.’ If you want to know the Church go to a village where the life of the Church is lived. Go to a hospital where there are many Christians that come to help, laymen, sisters… Go to Africa, where there are many missionaries. They burn their life there. And they make real revolutions. Not to convert, it was another time when we spoke of conversion, but to serve.”
All the available evidence is that ‘The people of God, as a whole” t do not agree with the Vatican teaching on sexual ethics, taken as a package. The absolute prohibitions on contraception, on sex before marriage, and on masturbation are widely rejected and ignored, not only in the West, but world-wide. Support for same-sex relationships is now widespread in many regions, and growing elsewhere. Many theologians and an increasing number of bishops understand the implication: the traditional doctrines on sex have not been “received” by the faithful. They must be refined – and surely will be, in time.