Pope Francis, Civil Unions, and the Need for a Breath

The past few weeks have been exhausting. Our parish is catching up on Confirmation and First Communion Masses, which includes many hours of Confessions, rehearsals, and then of course we have the usual day-to-day happenings of parish life. We’re also wrapping up a major renovation, and the big days of All Souls, All Saints, and our parish feast day are right around the corner. Oh, and something about dealing with a worldwide pandemic, too. So, when I woke up Wednesday morning after not quite enough sleep and saw the various notifications and headlines about a recent documentary in which Pope Francis comments on civil unions, this was the thought that went through my mind:

It’s 6:00 AM. Is it time for bed yet? I just can’t even today…

But alas, that’s not how the world works and so I got up, prayed, got dressed and tackled the day, along with the various notifications, texts, and phone calls from people basically all saying, “The Pope said what now?!”

For a bit of context, let’s look at what is said during the documentary Francesco, a series of interviews and clips over, it appears, many years:

Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions in new documentary Francesco -  Vox

Homosexuals have a right to part of a family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.

And then he says this, which pretty much caused the Catholic internet to implode:

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”

You can view the video clip here (please note I am not familiar with this Twitter user and I link only for the clip, not necessarily for other things he may or may not say):

Media outlets, both far left and far right, both Catholic and secular, took these statements and ran with them. On the one hand, the Holy Father was lauded for his progressive approach and “taking a step in the right direction.” On the other hand, he was accused of spouting heresy.

Who was stuck in the middle? All the regular Catholics just trying to figure out life and what it all means, so I’d like to spend a few moments addressing them and then address an issue which I think many people are missing in all this whole craziness.

First, it has come to light that this video was highly edited and quite possibly is taking the Holy Father’s words out of context. Of course, the only way to address this issue is to see the documentary in full, which we will be able to see in due time. Also, we need to look at these comments in the light of Pope Francis’ earlier statements on same-sex unions and homosexuality. Rather than parse all of these comments here, a brother priest has already done so on his blog, and so I recommend checking out Fr. Matthew P. Schneider’s comments on the situation. You can read his full (long) post on his site.

In short: the Holy Father has consistently stated that marriage is between one man and one woman and that legal civil unions are not to be considered as simply a different “type” of marriage, nor should they be placed on par with the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Second, there is some question as to the translation of Pope Francis’ Spanish usage. Some say that “convivencia” means civil union and others say it means civil coexistence, such as when a family gathers for dinner, as one brother priest related it. To me, it seems that the word likely can mean both, but the only way to discover its meaning in this context is to, again, see the documentary or better yet, see the unedited clips of the interview! The Holy See, unfortunately, has not responded directly to these comments yet.

My own Bishop, the Most Reverend Jaime Soto of the Diocese of Sacramento, has this to say:

Regarding statements of the Holy Father in a recently released documentary, official Church teaching is not changed by a recorded conversation with the Holy Father.

The teachings of the Catholic Church regarding traditional marriage continue because it reflects the reality about the unique character of the union of a man and a woman.

The Catholic Church’s teaching regarding the respect and care for those with same sex attractions also continues because in God’s eyes we are all His children.

We must continue to live the truth in love (Eph. 4.15). (You can read his full statement here.)

I believe Pope Francis is trying to do just this, namely teach and live truth in love. Since this is a documentary and not an official magisterial teaching, there is also room for civil discourse and even disagreement, but certainly no room for disrespecting the Holy Father in ways I have seen done in the last day nor is there room for twisting his words into something they are not.

Many have opined, and I believe this to be the case, that if the Holy Father is giving support to legal civil unions, it is out of a pastoral response and need to eliminate unjust discrimination and hatred directed at homosexual individuals. Let me be clear on this: eliminating discrimination and hatred is not a bad thing. Even then, it is not yet clear that the Holy Father is endorsing civil unions as we might be understanding them and it is very clear that in the past, he has maintained traditional marriage between one man and one woman.

In other words, we all need to calm down and take a breath!

Now before I wrap up, I want to address something that has become all too painfully evident through this whole debacle:

WE NEED TO STOP JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS! Over the past 24 hours, I have seen individuals gleefully proclaim that the Holy Father endorses same-sex marriage. I have seen still others say that he is evil and spouting heresy. Both groups have said that he is changing, or trying to change Church teaching.

In fact, these are things that I heard within just the first few hours of this news breaking. All of these are wrong, and I would strongly encourage anyone who holds either of these extreme views to take some serious time for introspection and to possibly avail yourself of the Sacrament of Confession. A pope cannot change Church teaching with an interview, and no one knows that better than the Pope himself – let’s say we give him the benefit of the doubt, huh?

We have become beholden to the 24-hour never-ending news cycle and we allow media and pundits to dictate our actions and reactions. Even those who say they don’t rely on extremely slanted sources may find that the sources they do follow are, in fact, the slanted motive-driven sources they profess to avoid, simply on the opposite end of the spectrum that they disavow.

We need to slow down, take a deep breath, and wait for things to develop. Is the Holy Father always clear? Perhaps not – he is not the same man as Pope St. John Paul II or Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. His predecessors had different strengths, weaknesses and gifts. When did we become so quick to judge, to ignore our Gospel teaching? Would clarification be welcome? Most certainly, but I believe we do a significant disservice to the Holy Father and to the Faith by jumping to the extreme conclusions that I have seen on some sites, ranging from “Pope Francis will accept gay marriage!” to “Pope Francis is a heretic!” Both of those kinds of thinking are two sides of the same coin – namely, the coin of division, a coin that the devil much prefers to deal in – and we need to overcome that division and have good, level-headed discussion.

The world moves lightning fast. We need to remember that the Church, in all her glory, does not. Let’s slow down a little bit and allow God’s grace and truth to work, rather than jumping to conclusions. Most of all, let us focus on our own salvation, because that’s where the real work needs to be done.

Pax.

Some other sources that may be helpful:

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