Hold on, A Minute!
Last Thursday, October 22, the Cape Cod Times had the headline, “Pope endorses same-sex civil unions” splashed across the front page. Under the headline was an Associated Press article. That headline and the first few paragraphs of the article might lead a hasty reader to believe Pope Francis had made a unilateral change in Catholic Church teaching on homosexuality and the sanctity of marriage. Nothing could be further from the truth! Once again, the secular media preferred a sensational story to the truth. Pope Francis did not make any change in Church teaching.
Here is what seems to have happened. On the previous day, a documentary film named “Francesco” produced by filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky was released at a Rome film festival. The film is an overview of Francis’ insights on many prominent social issues. In an interview in which he speaks in Spanish, Francis is quoted as saying, “Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way, they can be covered.”
Apparently, Francis made the statement back in 2019, in an interview not with Afineevsky but with Valentina Alazaki, a reporter for Mexico’s Televisa. The Vatican gave Afineevsky an unedited copy of that interview video, and he incorporated it into his film.
So, what did Pope Francis mean by his statement? Neither the Vatican nor the Pope has made a statement to clarify it yet. Given Francis’ past comments and Catholic doctrine, the Catholic press speculates that he is not changing Catholic doctrine regarding marriage. Back in his days as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina was considering legalizing same-sex marriage. Cardinal Bergoglio proposed the Argentine Catholic Bishops support “Convivencia civil” or “civil cohabitating” to head off that action. While the English subtitle in the film “Francesco” translates that as a civil union, it was not akin to the civil unions established by several states here in the US before the legalization of same-sex “marriage.”
As Cardinal Bergoglio, Francis proposed a law making it legal for two people living together to have the right to share employment benefits such as health insurance, inherit from each other, and accompany their partner in hospital should they become ill. His proposal didn’t gain the support of his fellow bishops, and Argentina legalized same-sex “marriage.”
Francis has consistently reiterated Church doctrine that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. He reaffirmed that children need to be raised with both a biological father and mother. Church doctrine is never changed by a verbal response to a journalist’s question in an interview. As I said here in this space last week, when I wrote about the Pope’s new encyclical Fratelli Tutte, Church doctrine can only be changed by such Encyclical Letters or other official papal proclamations.
When Francis said homosexuals have a right to a family, he means they should not be disowned by their biological families nor, for that matter, excluded from the Church, their spiritual family. People with homosexual tendencies must receive pastoral care that is the same as given to heterosexual people. There should not be any hurtful actions that would try to isolate homosexuals from society. Their human dignity must be preserved and respected.
I hope I have cleared up any misconceptions the Cape Cod Times headline might have caused parishioners. Whenever we see such media reports in the secular press, always view them with some skepticism. Before coming to a conclusion, there is usually more to the story seeking out information from good Catholic media resources.