Unpacking Francis’ “Same-Sex Union” Remarks

Reporters and religious writers who cover the Vatican are already going to great lengths to make sure that Catholics, especially LGBTQ Catholics, realize that Pope Francis’ statement re “civil unions” changes nothing as far as the Catholic Church’s stand on homosexuality and its definition of “marriage” is concerned. (The latter remains a union between a man and a woman.)

In fact, as Cindy Wooden explained in the National Catholic Register, there is an argument as to whether the “civil unions” statement came from “Francesco,” a documentary about the pope by Evgeny Afineevsky that premiered at the Rome Film Festival on 21 October 2020, or from a 2019 interview Francis did with Valentina Alazraki of Mexico’s Televisa television network.

Thomas Reese, writing for the Religion News Service (RNS), makes it very clear that Pope Francis was in no way talking of changing Catholic “dogma or doctrine or even Canon Law” but was merely stating that such unions should be recognized as legal in the eyes of the courts, thereby entitling partners to “spousal benefits, inheritance when there is co-ownership of property and the right to make medical decisions for one’s partner.”

All in all, the Pope created a little tempest in a teapot — what David Deane, Atlantic School of Theology professor and theologian, told CTV’s Bruce Frisko was “Francis being Francis.” At first blush, according to Deane, his statement created a headline-making stir, but upon further investigation, turned out to be “much less spectacular,” although it indicated the Pope’s concerns for gay people (he’s the first Pope ever to use the word “gay”), said Deane. He further pointed out that the Vatican has had almost nothing to say about such things as “civil unions” for years, and while it’s possible that much discussion is going on at the Vatican after Francis called for a “lack of discrimination and legal rights” for gays, Deane suggests that Francis wanted it “out there” and wanted public discussion on the topic. He wanted, Deane says, “to move the dial a little bit.”


Fr. Mychal Judge. (Photo via New Ways Ministry's Bondings 2.0 Blog https://newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/17/its-time-to-canonize-fr-mychal-judge-seeking-personal-testimony/)

Fr. Mychal Judge. (Photo via New Ways Ministry’s Bondings 2.0 Blog)

Deane is right about Pope Francis putting matters “out there,” and I was reminded of a piece I wrote a few years back when he announced new ways in which people could attain sainthood in the Catholic Church. In September 2017, Francis put out a statement indicating that anyone who “laid down their life for another” — the example used was that of a pregnant mother, living a Christian lifestyle, who refused treatment for an illness to protect her unborn child — would be “eligible for beatification,” the first step toward sainthood.

Fr. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest and New York Fire Department chaplain who died as first responder to the World Trade Centre attack on 9/11, was nominated. Judge also ministered to AIDS patients when many doctors feared them and often refused to treat them. Judge gave them and their families comfort, and preached at their funerals for he was well aware, as a gay man himself, that “gay Catholics were treated as second-hand citizens by the Catholic Church.”

I have yet to hear of a St. Mychal Judge. And those who are gay and Catholic must continue to keep their sexual orientation a secret or live a “chaste life,” civil union or not, if they wish to receive the Eucharist.

In the United States, where gay marriage is permitted — and has the support of an estimated 70% of Americans, including 67% of Catholics — Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island was quick to criticize the Pope’s reference to civil unions:

The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.


Pope Francis, in fact, has stated that the word “marriage” should only apply to heterosexual unions, so although the Pope’s concern for those LGBTQ unions seems sincere (and is something he championed as Archbishop of Argentina, where he was unable to get support from his bishops), rest assured his desire to assist gay couples ends at the recognition of civil unions for reasons of access to “public benefits.”

Bishops from California, Hawaii and Nevada prepare to concelebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major while making their "ad limina" visits in Rome Jan. 30, 2020.

Bishops from California, Hawaii and Nevada prepare to concelebrate Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary Major while making their “ad limina” visits in Rome Jan. 30, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

According to Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco, who is quoted in The Catholic Register story, the Pope discussed the topic at the Bishops’ ad limina visit to Rome in January of this year, insisting that “marriage is unique…complimentary between a man and a woman,” adding that “there is a danger of gender ideology and how it defines difference…the diversity with which God created humans male and female.”

I, for one, don’t have a clue what that means, but it certainly raises a question as to who created those who don’t fall into either category.

In Canada, same-sex marriages became legal on 20 July 2005. According to the 2006 census, there were 45,000 same-sex couples in Canada,16.5% of whom were married. Nova Scotia was ahead of the game, passing a same-sex law in September of 2004. By 2016, again according to the census, the number of same-sex couples in Canada had risen to over 72,880, 33.4% of whom were married.



Dolores Campbell, a lifelong resident of Sydney, is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Cape Breton Highlander, the Nova Scotian, Cape Breton Magazine, Catholic New Times and The Cape Breton Post.