Pope Francis Favors Same Sex Civil Unions

WaPo reports:

In a new documentary, Pope Francis has called for the creation of civil union laws for same-sex couples, in remarks that break from the Catholic Church’s official teaching and mark his clearest support to date for the issue.

Everyone else reports it too – just google “Pope civil unions” and you’ll see it’s all over the internet today.

My brief commentary:

  • We learned in 2013 that this had been his position within the Argentinian bishops’ conference, where he didn’t prevail. The news here is that he still holds this position and is now stating it clearly as pope.
  • The backlash will be, and already is, fierce. Some Catholics will be gravely disappointed that he’s going against the position of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (long led by Josef Ratzinger/Benedict XVI). I’m sure many gay-rights advocates, though, will be bitter that he’s advocating a half-measure that falls short of full equality. For such people, it is absolutely unacceptable to settle for gradual progress. Pray for Pope Francis.
  • Of liturgical interest – this is Pray Tell’s beat – is whether the Church can bless such same-sex civil unions if she approves of their legality. I suppose there will be an increase in Catholic clergy performing such blessings, and today’s news makes it a bit more difficult to stop them.
  • Bottom line: Christianity and modernity are locked in a highly complex relationship that will continue to wreak havoc for the churches and exacerbate their identity crises. (This has been going on for centuries – think of the popes’ abysmal failure in the 19th century to prevent the fall of the Papal States, and the marked evolution in the Catholic church’s official position on political questions over the succeeding century or so.) It’s hard to make sense of a revolution when you’re in the middle of it. No use complaining about all this – God calls us to do our best to be faithful precisely in this time and place. Buckle your seatbelts, prepare for a rocky ride, and strive to remain peaceful, prayerful, and charitable to your fellow Christians who hold a variety of views.



  1. My immediate concern is that this (hopefully) will put the brakes on the practice of automatically firing Catholic church employees who are discovered to be in same sex marriages. A civil union and a civil marriage for this purpose could be considered the same thing.

  2. I don’t disagree that this is big news – – but the bigger step would have been to issue a statement condemning discrimination policies both in civil society and in the church. In the U.S., diocesan HR departments hastened to include civil unions in the category of marital statuses that barred individuals from employment once civil unions became a “thing” and now specifically bar individuals in same-gender legal marriages. This is the “separate but equal” fallacy about to be played out all over again.
    In charity, I am trying to imagine how wonderful this feels to persons of same-gender orientation who live in places where prison and even death are possible outcomes & will do my best to try and share in their joy.
    Liturgically, I’m guessing that the best that could happen would be an outside-any-officially-recognized-rite blessing. Perhaps the best that could REALLY happen would be for churches (in the U.S.) to get out of the civil marriage game.

  3. Pope Francis also stated this position at least twice after becoming Pope so this isn’t new. It should be noted that allowing for something to be legal in secular society is not the same thing as condoning it or thinking it is ideal though this is how it will be interpreted. This statement, at least in the abstract, has no relevance on liturgical practice or the hiring or firing of Church employees.

    I suspect that officially, there will be no allowance for blessing of same-sex couples. But since there is no prohibition on blessing people in general, creative priests for better or worse will bless people that technically isn’t a “blessing of same-sex couples” but is pretty adjacent to it.

  4. Support for civil unions was voiced by Cardinal Nicholls with, I think, the support of the bishops of England&Wales, in 2011. They made the point that there was, then, no reference to sexual activity in the legislation. In contrast, at that time agreement to sexual congress was an explicit part of the marriage contract. The UK civil laws have been changed since.

  5. If there’s a blessing for cars and a blessing for fishing tackle there can be a blessing for committed couples of the same gender. It’s time for the Roman Catholic Church to expand their understanding of what it means to “read the signs of the times in the light of the Gospel.” Or not. We can keep welcoming people in the independent Sacramental, Episcopal and other churches.

  6. I don’t approve of this statement from Francis. He is just plain wrong and we Catholics are not obligated to go along with his error.

    1. More importantly, I think people who agree with the Holy Father won’t be left to twist in the wind when the Temple Police troll on social media sites for opinions on civil unions for the purpose of pink-slipping non-conformists.

  7. Thank you, Anthony. Yes, the Pope needs our prayers. Yes, it is unfortunate that some will not be pleased with gradual progress. Thank you, too, Alan. Separate but equal? Great point. Since I no longer depend on the Roman Catholic church for my income, it does not affect me, personally. But I have to say, that even thinking about all the years that I worked in parishes, I have a difficult time remembering an instance when this would have bothered one of the folks in the pew.

  8. • The Church, the Bride of Christ from one angle, Jesus, Head and members, has *not* approved of civil unions and never will. Her divine Head came to bring the sixth commandment to perfection, not to abolish it or excuse from.
    A churchman, yes, the world’s most famous ecclesiastic, has approved. He has thus helped to lead, or rather, further lead, a multitude into grave sin, and in some cases, formal mortal sin.
    • the teaching on this matter is NOT “just” the CDF, it was formally approved by the Pope. Ecclesiologically, theologically it far, far outweighs assertions of a Bishop of Rome in a documentary.
    • the doctrine on the demands of chastity is the common, universal teaching of the Church, her “constant and very firm teaching”, “from which all danger of error is present”.
    • Can the Church, in a God-pleasing way, bless an abortion suction machine?

    1. Fr. McDonald, I am not sure that support for civil unions and sexual activity go hand in hand. See for example Anthony Hawkins. I know there are some Christians who would like to see an expanded definition of civil union to include multiple people (but not in support of polygamy) but so that relatives and friends have easy legal access to health care benefits, inheritance, visitation rights, etc.

  9. May I suggest we settle down a bit and take a look at the pope’s remarks in the context of ways that we can do a better job of respecting the dignity of all human lives. Once upon a time the church regarded divorce as prohibited and accordingly treated people who divorced with little or no dignity. During that era we clearly condemned civil laws which permitted and regulated laws governing divorce. We no longer see the need for such a condemnation because nearly all of us are related to people who have experienced unavoidable failures in marriage. They are our friends, our co-workers, and our parishioners. This shift applies similarly to our attitudes towards heterosexual individuals and couples who violate the moral proscriptions inferred in the 6th and 9th commandments. When members of our own families began buying into the sexual revolution of the 60’s, disgust and condemnation gave way over the decades since to live and let live. Should we really be surprised that the Pope of Mercy personally believes that we will have advanced the Good News by refraining from judging others and characterizing them solely by their sexual proclivities? There’s a classification of Catholics who seem to think that people do sinful things because so many clergy have stopped mislabeling grave matters as mortal sins. We human beings don’t need any special kind of permission or even direction to find our way into all kinds of wrongdoings–even grave ones. According to social science data, there is a relatively tiny percentage of the population who identify exclusively as homosexual. Among them are couples seeking to love one another from the perspective of their own moral beliefs. At least two such couples are my own cousins with whom I grew up. I refuse to look at them as if their relationship is only to be defined by their sexual behavior. I regard them with dignity, but let me assure you they know very well what the church teaches about sexual morality and marriage and don’t for a moment expect me to agree with them. God bless the Pope of Mercy.

  10. The pope is right and I respect his wisdom. But civil unions are not marriages and LGBT christians are still not invited to the Blessed Sacrament and are still basically unwelcome at mass. It’s like saying “Come in from the cold” when you really mean “Stay in the coat closet with the mud and the wet umbrellas.” This is a nice sentiment but it only highlights how stark the division is between “chastity” and real life. If Francis has been misinterpreted, he needs to come forward and tell us (in actual english) what he really means. The principle of catholic lifestyle chastity is still lopsided and unfair.

    1. Rita, I’m not sure “actual English” is a good method for Pope Francis to tell us what he really means. He’s not especially proficient in the language. I’d be happy to hear him amplify his meaning in Italian or Spanish, though, and a subsequent translation to the English that I understand.

    1. But they can’t have the real thing! From the Book of Common Prayer (CofE)
      “… duly considering the purposes for which Matrimony was ordained. First, it was ordained for the procreation of children …” Aquinas says the same.
      That has been the the universal human understanding, not just by monogamist cultures but polygamists and polyandrists as well. Including in cultures that acknowledge/celebrate other forms of pair bonding.

      1. That’s just tough if your bride is past menopause, or if either is infertile for whatever reason.
        Sensibly that isn’t the sole reason for marriage given in the BCP.

  11. “But they can’t have the real thing! From the Book of Common Prayer (CofE)
    “… duly considering the purposes for which Matrimony was ordained. First, it was ordained for the procreation of children …” Aquinas says the same.?”

    So…are married couples which adopt due to infertility…living in sin?

    In any case, at the end of the day, the issue is about people who wish to lead
    Christian lives and worship with fellow Christians being turned away.

    Are heterosexual practices a big topic in your Church? Lots of discussion at coffee hour and from the pulpit? No?

    Exactly. People who are Christian identify as Christian and simply want to worship. You might be surprised at the number of devout Christians who are and were gay throughout history. From the point of view of our worship and prayer life, it’s incidental.

    Or do people begin their devotions ruminating on their sexual orientation…?

    One could easily argue that spousal abuse deserves far more attention and condemnation than this. Or, pick your sin; they’re common among us all. We may do well to remember that.

    1. Jeff Armbruster, I agree with your comments and views expressed in that post.
      And I think the third purpose of marriage, as expressed by BCP “Thirdly it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity, …” would be provided by a civil union. And that should be acceptable to the Church.

      Questions about an individuals behaviour in relation to the second purpose “a remedy for them that have not the gift of continence” are surely more suitable for discussion in the confessional than over coffee after Mass.

  12. Well, the AP is now reporting that the comments came from a highly edited interview where he also said “what I said is that they have a right to a family. And that doesn’t mean I approve of homosexual acts, not at all.”

    So there is that.

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