Pope Francis and Civil Unions

The MSNBC report on Pope Francis and civil unions that I’ve just published, states that a full English translation is available at Catholic News Service. I’m not sure if this is quite correct – it looks to me like a report on the interview, rather than a full translation of the complete interview, but it does offer more than other reports. I have the complete Italian text, which I will compare with the CNS version, and report on as soon as I’ve completed grappling with the language. (UPDATE: It’s clearly NOT a complete translation. I’m working now with the Italian text, and will have more shortly).

Here are the parts of the CNS report, that deal specifically with civil unions. .

Pope, in interview, suggests church could tolerate some civil unions

By Francis X. Rocca
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis suggested the Catholic Church could tolerate some types of nonmarital civil unions as a practical measure to guarantee property rights and health care. He also said the church would not change its teaching against artificial birth control but should take care to apply it with “much mercy.”

Pope Francis’ words appeared in an interview published March 5 in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

“Matrimony is between a man and a woman,” the pope said, but moves to “regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care.” Asked to what extent the church could understand this trend, he replied: “It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety.”

Bishops around the world have differed in their responses to civil recognition of nonmarital unions. The president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said in February 2013 that some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of nonmarried couples. But until now, no pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions.



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Has Pope Francis Signalled Support for Civil Unions?

Cardinal Bergoglio’s name is already included, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, in the the growing list of senior bishops and cardinals who have expressed some form of support for same – sex civil unions, but it’s too soon to add his name as Pope Francis. News reports today, based on a recent interview with Corriere della Sera, indicate that may soon change.


German Bishop Declares Support for Gay Civil Unions, Says Sexual Doctrines Must Change.

The bishop of Trier, Stephan Ackermann, is the latest Catholic bishop to acknowledge that while the Church cannot approve of gay marriage, it should accept the value of same – sex civil unions.

Bishop of Trier, Stephen Ackermann

Bishop of Trier, Stephen Ackermann

As far as homosexual relationships were concerned, the church would have to appeal to people’s sense of responsibility, he continued. “The Christian concept of the human being emanates from the polarity of the sexes but we cannot simply say homosexuality is unnatural,” he explained. While the church must “hold fast” to the uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman, it could not just ignore registered same-sex unions where the couples had promised to be faithful to and responsible for one another.


Divorce: Catholics Worldwide Challenge Vatican Communion Rules

One of the key questions that precipitated the decision to call the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and Family, was whether the Church should modify its current rule forbidding people who have divorced and remarried, from receiving communion. Results from the recent Univision global survey are unequivocal: yes, it should. (In the diagram below, 100% represents full agreement with Vatican doctrine. Those countries closest to the centre, most strongly disagree).

divorce, univision survey


Luxembourg Bishops: Church Should “Accept Reality As It Is”

For Luxembourg, Vatican Insider reports:

The Catholic Church in Luxembourg has also published its own analysis of the results of the questionnaires on the family online. The Synod of Bishops decided to send out said questionnaires in preparation for next October’s meeting. “The vast majority of responses came from people who feel they have ties with the Church and identify with it,” a note issued by the local Church reads, condemning “a growing divide between the magisterial proclamation of the Church, the way this doctrine is received by the members of the Church and the effect it has on them.” The responses gathered in Luxembourg confirm the respect the Church has for the family but they also highlight that the importance in Church teaching has gone into “free fall” compared to the value given to individual conscience and freedom.

According to Luxembourg’s Catholics, the Church does not offer a suitable solution to problematic family situations. “The doctrine on marriage, responsible fatherhood and the family is rejected in non-ecclesial circles (sometimes even in ecclesial ones),” because the Church is seen as a stranger and as not competent in these areas. In their answers Luxembourg’s Catholics refer to “the suffering caused by the exclusion from the sacraments, particularly in terms of reconciliation.” The rule the Church has regarding access to the sacraments appears inadequate. They urge the Church “to put the pastoral mission of mercy into practice and create environments where it can be introduced and experienced.” But Luxembourg didn’t express any precise position or offer any concrete indications as to the issue of gay couples. There was simply an appeal to the Church to “accept reality as it is and not try to change it with moral models” and to be welcoming and merciful.


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Catholic Priest Urges LGBT Protection in Trinidad Constitution.

It’s not only in Europe and North America that we have increasing support from faith communities for LGBT equality. There is progress too in Africa and the Caribbean, although from a weaker base and greater hurdles still to overcome. In Trinidad, there is public debate at present over a proposed new constitution, for which draft proposals suggest no change to the present clause on human rights, but that the question of human rights and sexual orientation should be left open for further discussion and education, later. 


For Catholic priest Dr Fr Stephen Geofroy, this just isn’t good enough. Reminding a public meeting on the constitution of the country’s history of slavery and indentureship, and of discrimination on the basis of race, colour and class he said that it was time to move away from all discrimination and anything that denigrates the human person. It was therefore time to enshrine in the constitution, the rights of all to love whomever they want.


Belgian Catholics Urge Greater Welcome for Gay Catholics / Divorcees.

Vatican Insider reports that the Religious Information Service (SIR) has analysed the results of the survey on the Pope’s pastoral care programme for the family, and published some extracts of these results for some European countries. Those for Germany and Switzerland have already been widely reported elsewhere, as well as that of Austria. It’s not too surprising that these three German – speaking countries came up with broadly similar findings, but there’s been no published results for any of the English – speaking countries, or (until now) for the rest of Europe.


The Vatican Insider report is thus particularly welcome for reporting on results from French – speaking Luxembourg, and French / Flemish Belgium. Once again, these results are broadly in line with those from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, noting the gulf between official teaching and actual practice by Catholics on the ground, and calling for the Church to take account of the complexities and realities of marriage, and for greater pastoral sensitivity in dealing with these issues.


Gay Marriage, Ireland: Archbishop Supports Civil Unions.

Gay marriage will not come to Ireland until 2015, when a referendum will be held, to approve a recommendation last year by the country’s constitutional convention – but already, some benefits are being seen, in both Church and state. In the secular sphere, legislation for marriage equality cannot be introduced until after approval by the referendum, the government has announced that meanwhile, it will recognize same – sex marriages contracted abroad. That “abroad” soon include marriages in England or Wales, for those couples who satisfy British law (but not yet, Northern Ireland).

rainbow ireland

In the Catholic Church, the early debate on the subject has already drawn some unpleasant language, which has prompted Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, to warn against intemperate language – and to refer to homophobia as “an insult to God”.  This is notable enough, when so many other bishops, in the USA, Scotland and elsewhere, resorted to nasty, homophobic language themselves in their campaigns to forestall equality. But at least as notable, is a further observation by Martin – that Church teaching did not exclude same – sex couples from celebrating their unions in other forms of recognition outside marriage, for example in civil unions.


Worldwide, 78% of Catholics Support Contraception.

It’s a myth that Catholic support for contraception is restricted to the wealth countries of North America and Western Europe. A global survey of self-identified Catholics in twelve countries (those with the largest Catholic populations) has found that overall,  78% of Catholics worldwide support the use of contraception. Even in Africa, Catholics are divided, without a clear majority backing the official Catholic prohibition.

Do you support or oppose the use of contraceptives? Contraception, global surveyIn this diagram, “100%” represents the extent of agreement with the Vatican position, and so the points closest to the centre are those most strongly disagreeing with the Humanae Vitae prohibition on artificial contraception. It’s clear that none of the countries included show any strong support for the Vatican position, and most are firmly against.

This will have profound importance for the bishops’ deliberations at the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family.One of the key questions in the global survey preparing for the synod, is “Do Catholics accept the teaching on contraception?”.  The answer, quite clearly, is a resounding “no” – overall, 78% do not support the official teaching. This matters, a lot.

For  the detailed figures see the interactive version of this diagram at the Univision site, which show that only in Congo is there an absolute majority opposed to contraception, and that by a margin of only 54% to 44%. In Uganda, there is a plurality (but not a majority) opposed, by 49% to 44%. Poland and the Philippines are widely regarded as conservative Catholic countries, but in the Philippines, where the bishops waged a strenous campaign against government plans to extend contraception services to the poor, only 30% of Catholics are opposed to contraception.  in Poland, only 19% (less than one in five) agree with the Vatican opposition. At the other end of the scale, in each of Brazil, Argentina, Spain and France, support for contraception is over 90%. In the headline for its report on this survey, the Washington Post referred to a “divided church”. On contraception at least, that’s not a fair reflection of the situation. It’s not the church as a whole that is divided: 78% is a very substantial majority in favour of contraception. The real division, is between the Vatican and the rest of the Church.

Catholic doctrine is not developed in simple reaction to opinion polls, and this finding does not lead immediately to the conclusion that doctrine must change. However, the Church does accept that there is an obligation at least to consider the findings from scientific research, including social survey results. These results show that self – identified lay Catholics reject the teaching. Add to that, the historical fact that the encyclical simply ignored the majority opinion of the papal commission that preceded it, and that in the years since, there has been abundant evidence of serious disagreements among the professional moral theologians on the wisdom of the absolute prohibition on artificial contraception, and the inescapable conclusion must be, that there is not evidence whatsoever that this prohibition has the support of the church “as a whole”. By the principle of the sensus fideii, this manifest failure of Humanae Vitae to gain the acceptance of the faithful, that is, to be “fully received” by the Church raises the fundamental question, whether it even has full validity as doctrine.

If Humanae Vitae comes into question, then so does its central foundation, that every sexual act must be open to procreation. When that is challenged – so is the rest of the flimsy house of cards that constitutes the Vatican (mis)understaning of human sexuality. The entire structure needs to be rebuilt, from the ground up.

There is general agreement that the synod has not been called to make doctrinal changes, and no reason to suppose that it will do so. However, they will be forced to consider the evidence before them, and much of this will make uncomfortable reading for the doctrinal ideologues on sexuality. Most Catholics know that sexual doctrines must change eventually, and I suspect many bishops know this. The challenge they face, is finding a way to admit the obvious, without losing too much face. Open and frank discussions at the synod could conceivably give them just the fig leaf they need, to begin to admit the obvious.




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The disordered language of Catholic LGBT teaching

It is scandalous that in the formal CDF documents dealing with homosexuality, statements on marriage equality by some bishops, and examples of pastoral practice by some clergy and Catholic institutions, the Catholic Church flagrantly disregards and directly flouts important parts of its own published teaching.

A key clause of the Catechism makes crystal clear the importance of “sensitivity” in the pastoral approach to homosexual persons – but in the same clause, this insistence is ignored. There is nothing remotely sensitive in labelling an entirely natural, non- pathological orientation, deeply embodied as an important part of our human make- up, as a mere “inclination”, or to brand it as “objectively disordered”.

 2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

Catholic priests attend a rally in Florida, in November 2008, to protest against legislation that discriminates against LGBT people. (Source: http://www.theinternational.org/articles/457-conflicting-freedoms-the-catholic-church

Catholic priests attend a rally in Florida, in November 2008, to protest against legislation that discriminates against LGBT people. (Source: http://www.theinternational.org/articles/457-conflicting-freedoms-the-catholic-church

Vatican apologists have responded to criticisms of this language with the claim that the words here are used with a precise theological meaning, which is not to be confused with the offensive connotations of popular speech, and that no offence is intended. That’s simply not good enough. “Sensitivity” in speech that we consider carefully more than just the intention behind the words we choose, but also the way in which they will be interpreted, and the effects of that interpretation.


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