Pope Francis Has NOT “Supported” Civil Unions – but Catholic Thinking Continues to Evolve

Zenit’s complete English translation of Pope Francis’ interview with Correia makes it clear that no, he did not in fact “support” civil unions, but stopped well short of any direct endorsement.

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Many countries have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?

Marriage is between one man and one woman. The secular States want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of coexistence, spurred by the need to regulate economic aspects between persons as, for instance, to ensure healthcare. Each case must be looked at and evaluated in its diversity.


Francis holds back from a blanket endorsement, for the simple reason that the term “civil union” means many different things, taking different forms in different jurisdictions. Further, the limited support he suggests as a possibility – no more – is for legal contracts to protect financial and property assets, not as any kind of celebration of mutual love, nor to benefit the children in any non – material way. He also makes explicit his belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Nevertheless, these extremely cautious words represent the beginnings of some evolution in formal, institutional Catholic thinking. Any support at all for civil unions would be an advance on existing Vatican documents.By stating that “Each case must be looked at and evaluated in its diversity”, he is indirectly encouraging open discussion, debate and listening – so characteristic of his response to so many controversial issues, and such a marked difference from the papacies of Benedict and John Paul II. That open debate will encourage many who have been too timid to speak out up to now, to make their views heard, and Catholic thinking will continue to evolve.

Also, his words defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, while clear, went no further than that. There was no fulmination, no resort to the “disordered” language used by Cardinal Ratzinger.

As far as I am aware, Pope Francis has still said nothing at all for or against same – sex relationships, other than his celebrated question, “Who am I to judge?”. I suspect that for many gay or lesbian Catholics, Vatican opposition to gay marriage is no longer of too much concern. It is now obvious that marriage equality is continuing to spread around the world, and the Catholic Church has no more power to prevent it, than it did to prevent legal access to contraception, decades ago.

Of far greater and more immediate relevance, is the kind of judgement that they see the church passing on their lives, and the pastoral treatment they might expect, in their parishes and from church employers, if they take up they take advantage of civil provision for same – sex marriage. Those are the same, in essence, as the questions that matter to Catholics who have divorced and remarried – questions that will begin to be answered at the October synod on marriage and family. The message that they receive, will prepare the way for further evolution in Catholic thinking about LGBT Catholics and their relationships.


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2 comments for “Pope Francis Has NOT “Supported” Civil Unions – but Catholic Thinking Continues to Evolve

  1. March 6, 2014 at 9:50 am

    Thanks for the clarification, Terry. I’ve just amended my posting at GM.

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