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.


Some other sources that may be helpful:

First Sunday of Advent: Hope (Pope’s Homily)

In today’s homily for the First Sunday of Advent, Pope Francis reminded us that our salvation in Christ, at its core, is about justice, love, and the invincible power of God; in this we have our hope. With these thoughts, he opened the Year of Mercy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, located in Bangui in in the Central African Republic. The Jubilee of Mercy will be officially opened in Rome on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Tuesday, December 8.

The readings for today’s Mass can be found here. The homily in full:

On this first Sunday of Advent, the liturgical season of joyful expectation of the Saviour and a symbol of Christian hope, God has brought me here among you, in this land, while the universal Church is preparing for the opening of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I am especially pleased that my pastoral visit coincides with the opening of this Jubilee Year in your country. From this cathedral I reach out, in mind and heart, and with great affection, to all the priests, consecrated men and women, and pastoral workers of the nation, who are spiritually united with us at this moment. Through you, I would greet all the people of the Central African Republic: the sick, the elderly, those who have experienced life’s hurts. Some of them are perhaps despairing and listless, asking only for alms, the alms of bread, the alms of justice, the alms of attention and goodness.

But like the Apostles Peter and John on their way to the Temple, who had neither gold nor silver to give to the paralytic in need, I have come to offer God’s strength and power; for these bring us healing, set us on our feet and enable us to embark on a new life, to “go across to the other side” (cf. Lk 8:22).

Jesus does not make us cross to the other side alone; instead, he asks us to make the crossing with him, as each of us responds to his or her own specific vocation. We need to realize that making this crossing can only be done with him, by freeing ourselves of divisive notions of family and blood in order to build a Church which is God’s family, open to everyone, concerned for those most in need. This presupposes closeness to our brothers and sisters; it implies a spirit of communion. It is not primarily a question of financial means; it is enough just to share in the life of God’s people, in accounting for the hope which is in us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), in testifying to the infinite mercy of God who, as the Responsorial Psalm of this Sunday’s liturgy makes clear, is “good [and] instructs sinners in the way” (Ps 24:8). Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father “makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt 5:45). Having experienced forgiveness ourselves, we must forgive others in turn. This is our fundamental vocation: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

One of the essential characteristics of this vocation to perfection is the love of our enemies, which protects us from the temptation to seek revenge and from the spiral of endless retaliation. Jesus placed special emphasis on this aspect of the Christian testimony (cf. Mt 5:46-47). Those who evangelize must therefore be first and foremost practitioners of forgiveness, specialists in reconciliation, experts in mercy. This is how we can help our brothers and sisters to “cross to the other side” – by showing them the secret of our strength, our hope, and our joy, all of which have their source in God, for they are grounded in the certainty that he is in the boat with us. As he did with the apostles at the multiplication of the loaves, so too the Lord entrusts his gifts to us, so that we can go out and distribute them everywhere, proclaiming his reassuring words: “Behold, the days are coming when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jer 33:14).

In the readings of this Sunday’s liturgy, we can see different aspects of this salvation proclaimed by God; they appear as signposts to guide us on our mission. First of all, the happiness promised by God is presented as justice. Advent is a time when we strive to open our hearts to receive the Saviour, who alone is just and the sole Judge able to give to each his or her due. Here as elsewhere, countless men and women thirst for respect, for justice, for equality, yet see no positive signs on the horizon. These are the ones to whom he comes to bring the gift of his justice (cf. Jer 33:15). He comes to enrich our personal and collective histories, our dashed hopes and our sterile yearnings. And he sends us to proclaim, especially to those oppressed by the powerful of this world or weighed down by the burden of their sins, that “Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it shall be called, ‘The Lord is our righteousness’” (Jer 33:16). Yes, God is righteousness; God is justice. This, then, is why we Christians are called in the world to work for a peace founded on justice.

The salvation of God which we await is also flavoured with love. In preparing for the mystery of Christmas, we relive the pilgrimage which prepared God’s people to receive the Son, who came to reveal that God is not only righteousness, but also and above all love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8). In every place, even and especially in those places where violence, hatred, injustice and persecution hold sway, Christians are called to give witness to this God who is love. In encouraging the priests, consecrated men and woman, and committed laity who, in this country live, at times heroically, the Christian virtues, I realize that the distance between this demanding ideal and our Christian witness is at times great. For this reason I echo the prayer of Saint Paul: “Brothers and sisters, may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men and women” (1 Th 3:12). Thus what the pagans said of the early Christians will always remain before us like a beacon: “See how they love one another, how they truly love one another” (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7).

Finally, the salvation proclaimed by God has an invincible power which will make it ultimately prevail. After announcing to his disciples the terrible signs that will precede his coming, Jesus concludes: “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Lk 21:28). If Saint Paul can speak of a love which “grows and overflows”, it is because Christian witness reflects that irresistible power spoken of in the Gospel. It is amid unprecedented devastation that Jesus wishes to show his great power, his incomparable glory (cf. Lk 21:27) and the power of that love which stops at nothing, even before the falling of the heavens, the conflagration of the world or the tumult of the seas. God is stronger than all else. This conviction gives to the believer serenity, courage and the strength to persevere in good amid the greatest hardships. Even when the powers of Hell are unleashed, Christians must rise to the summons, their heads held high, and be ready to brave blows in this battle over which God will have the last word. And that word will be love and peace!

To all those who make unjust use of the weapons of this world, I make this appeal: lay down these instruments of death! Arm yourselves instead with righteousness, with love and mercy, the authentic guarantors of peace. As followers of Christ, dear priests, religious and lay pastoral workers, here in this country, with its suggestive name, situated in the heart of Africa and called to discover the Lord as the true centre of all that is good, your vocation is to incarnate the very heart of God in the midst of your fellow citizens. May the Lord deign to “strengthen your hearts in holiness, that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Th 3:13). Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Love. Peace. Amen.

H/T to Whispers.

On Paris

By Kriti Shankar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Interior of Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, by Kriti Shankar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

My heart hurts for the people of Paris today. I cannot begin to fathom what they are going through. I think of the two exchange students our school hosted last year; they were both from France. I wonder what they are going through right now. I remember the french man I met on a train in New Zealand, and I consider whether or not he is in Paris, and what he and his family must be thinking right now.

What are we to do in times such as these?

Pray. Hope. Trust in God. Meet violence with peace, ugliness with beauty and falsehoods with truth.

It has become clear since the attacks last night that they were perpetrated by terrorists from ISIS. When we pray for the repose of the souls who died last night, we must keep those responsible in our prayers as well. When we pray for the victims, we need to pray for the perpetrators of these horrible acts. For our own part, we must also educate ourselves, know what is going on in the world, do what we can to spread Truth, and leave the rest to God.

Pope Francis called last night’s events part of a “piecemeal World War III.” Is he right? I don’t know. But what I do know is that we must stand together with our French brothers and sisters, and all those who come under the shadow of terrorism, of evil, and proclaim the Light that banishes all darkness.

Pray for the victims. Pray for those responsible. Pray for each other, and never lose hope.

Our Lady of Lourdes

Our Lady of Lourdes

Nous vous saluons, Reine, Mere de misericorde, notre vie, notre joie, notre esperance, salut. Enfants d’Eve, nous crions vers vous de fond de notre exil. Nous soupirons vers vous, gemissant et pleurant dans cette vallee de larmes. O vous notre advocate, tournez vers nous vos regards misericordieux. Et apres l’exil de cette vie, montrez nous Jesus, le fruit beni de vos entrailles, tendre, aimante, douce vierge Marie. Priez pour nous, sainte Mere de Dieu. Afin que nous devenions dignes des promesses de Jesus Christ. Amen.