Pope Francis & Civil Unions

Some thoughts and reflections regarding Pope Francis’ interview (that’s been widely covered over the last 24 hours) where he seems to call for a wider push for civil unions for same-sex couples.

1. There are some questions about the translation from English into Spanish of the interview – the clip is coming from a documentary/movie (not yet released in the US, but available internationally) – the current English translation talks about “civil unions” for same-sex couples, but several websites are advocating for a translation into English of “laws of civility,” meaning laws that do not discriminate against people with same-sex attraction. Part of the issue is that, while the interview is in Spanish, there are some regional colloquialisms from Argentina that may color the exact meaning of the Pope’s words. The Catholic world is waiting for clarification from the Vatican on the correct translation.(see article in Spanish, but with a video with English subtitles: https://www.lanacion.com.ar/el-mundo/el-papa-pidio-ley-convivencia-civil-gays-nid2485449)

2. If Pope Francis’ comments are translated correctly into English, it’s important to note that this isn’t a change in Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction: namely, that there is no sin in being sexually attracted to someone of the same gender; that those with same sex attraction are challenged to live a celibate (not engaging in sexual intercourse) life; that the sin is equal to heterosexual people engaging in pre-marital or extra-marital sexual activity; that there should be no disrespect and no discrimination shown to those who are attracted to people of the same gender (see Always our Children, a Church encyclical: https://www.bishop-accountability.org/resources/resource-files/churchdocs/AlwaysOurChildren.htm)

3. This is also not a change to the doctrine (teaching) of the sacrament of matrimony for the church – the sacrament still generally applies to baptized, non-divorced Catholics (one biological male, one biological female) who promise to fulfill the covenant of marriage throughout their lifetime while being open to the blessing of children.

4. It’s also important to note that, whichever translation is correct, Pope Francis is not speaking ex cathedra (literally “from the chair,” a theological term referring to himself as sitting “on the chair of Peter,” meaning as the latest person in the long line of Popes stretching back to St. Peter, the first Pope). Church dogma / doctrine (teaching) is only developed or set in stone when a Pope specifically makes a statement on faith or morals and specifically invokes his authority as Pope ex cathedra.

5. Again, if the translation is correct, and he is calling for a wider acceptance of same-sex civil unions around the world, keep in mind that this is a legal recourse he’s advocating for to ensure that same-sex couples and their families are afforded the same legal rights as other couples in the areas of medical issues, ability to enter into contracts, issues dealing with property and wills, etc. As evidenced by the first part of the interview, this also falls in line with a call for an eradication of prejudice and discrimination for people with same-sex attraction or in same-sex relationships, reminding governments and people that everyone is to be treated with the same justice and care, regardless of their sexual orientation. It’s an especially poignant call to parents and family members of people with same-sex attraction to not remove or exclude them from the family simply on the basis of their sexual orientation.

This article from Catholic News Agency does a good job of summarizing what’s floating around the internet at the moment: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/what-did-pope-francis-say-about-civil-unions-a-cna-explainer-57625

The only comment I’ll add to the article is an explanation of the term “intrinsically (or objectively) disordered” in referencing same-sex attraction. “Intrinsically disordered” is a technical theological / philosophical term that comes from the theology of natural law. Since one of the natural ends of married sexual union is children (the other being the strengthening of the bonds of spousal love and service), and since same sex couples cannot together create children, it is intrinsically (“in and of itself”) disordered (not part of the natural order of biology / creation) – it isn’t a moral judgment (even though the language sounds harsh), but a precise use of technical theological language within the framework of a centuries-only approach to Catholic theology.

Hopefully that helps give some context to many of the articles I’ve seen spring up in secular news outlets, many of which are proclaiming a change in Church teaching.

Blessings & Peace,