Catholic Bishops Divided on Civil Unions

This is getting really interesting. Last year, Archbishop Vincent Nichols raised a flurry of interest (in support and in outraged horror) when he suggested that there could be value in civil partnerships/unions.  The year before that, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna (and others) suggested that it was time for the Church to shift emphasis from “homosexual acts” to the quality of the relationships. Meanwhile, this year in Colorado, Catholic bishops are rallying against proposals for civil unions – as they have done elsewhere in the US, arguing that civil unions are a slippery slope to full marriage equality. In Italy, a new report from Commonweal tells us of an Italian bishop speaking up for civil unions. Largely ignored today, is the historic fact that when Portugal was considering  a law  to provide for full same -sex marriage, their bishops supported civil unions as an alternative, more acceptable to the Catholic Church.

I wonder – is this a sign of a wider, fundamental split between Catholic bishops – or a division between European and American bishops? Either way, I welcome this. Any public recognition of value in civil partnerships encourages discussion of the value of relationships, as something good in themselves, independently of the fuss over genital acts on the one hand, and the definition of marriage, on the other.

 Italian Bishop Advocates Civil Unions.

Maltastar.com reports that Paolo Urso, the bishop of Ragusa (in Sicily,) has called for civil recognition of same-sex couples. (The UPI report is here.)

He’s not calling for civil marriage for same-sex couples, but for civil unions, presumably for heterosexual couples as well as same-sex couples. money quote:

When two people, even if they’re the same sex, decide to live together, it’s important for the State to recognise this fact, But it must be called something different from marriage.

The US bishops, recall, view the civil recognition of same-sex relationships as

a multifaceted threat to the very fabric of society, striking at the source from which society and culture come and which they are meant to serve. Such recognition affects all people, married and non-married…

To my knowledge, the USCCB has not spoken about civil unions for straight couples. (We’ve always just called it “civil marriage.”) So what we see here is two places to draw a line: Urso would have civil unions regarded as different from civil marriage, while the USCCB would draw the line between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

- dotCommonweal 

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