Did a Vatican Official Backtrack from His Supportive LGBT Stance?


Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Earlier this week, we reported on positive comments about same-gender couples made by Archbishop Vincent Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, and noted that it seemed to be part of a trend among international bishops in making positive statements about the relationships of lesbian and gay people.

Since that time, a news account has emerged which claims that Paglia has backtracked from his original statement.  The National Catholic Reporter carried the Religion News Service story:

“A top Vatican official blamed the media for ‘derailing’ his recent remarks on possible legal protections for unmarried couples, while reaffirming his support for British and French bishops who have been vocal opponents of same-sex marriage.

“His remarks were widely repeated, with some interpreting it as a softening of the Vatican’s stance just as bishops in France and Britain are furiously opposing the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“In an interview Wednesday on Vatican Radio, Paglia said he had been ‘very surprised’ by the way his words had been reported by ‘some media.’

” ‘Not only were the words not understood … but in truth, and perhaps knowingly, they were, as it were, derailed,’ he said.

“For the archbishop, recognizing that ‘norms that protect individual rights’ can find their place in “existing (legal) systems” is “completely different” from approving same-sex marriage.

Though the archbishop may not be pleased with the way the story was reported,  I think it is incorrect to say that his second statement was “backtracking” from his first one.  He was very clear in the first statement that he did not support same-gender marriage.   Yet, what was news about that first statement was the positive comments about protecting lesbian and gay relationships.

It does not appear that he has backtracked from those positive statements at all.  And those statements were indeed a step forward.  No Vatican official had ever offered any words that could be construed as an alternative way to support lesbian and gay couples, as Paglia did.

In the second news story, DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke offered the real hope that sustains many pro-LGBT Catholics:

“. . . real hope on this front comes from the people, not the hierarchy,’ as Catholics ‘continue to grow increasingly supportive of civil recognition of same-sex couples’ relationships.’ “

Paglia’s affirmative comments, as well as those recently made by French bishops and British bishops, may indicate that the positive support of lay Catholics for LGBT people is, in fact, moving up the hierarchical ladder of the church.

Paglia’s comments may not have gone as far as many of us would have liked, but they certainly are a step in the right direction.  And it’s a good thing that he did not back away from that.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry





0 replies
  1. Terence
    Terence says:

    I agreeH that there’s no fundamental difference between his original statement, and the “clarification” – and so no backtracking. He has now insisted that he was not speaking in favour of gay marriage, but there was never any suggestion in the original statement that he was. He did speak explicitly on the importance of legal protections for same – sex couples – and nothing in the later statement to deny that, except that he’s softened the wording to legal protections for “individual” rights (which of course, includes protection for individual relationships).

    But I think there’s a really interesting, bigger picture here. Immediately after his reported retraction, there were comments on-line suggesting that someone’s been leaning on him to retract. That’s a fair assumption, and I think Paglia was anxious to at least give the impression of a retraction, to cover his own back. He’s not the first prominent cardinal or bishop to speak of greater respect for gay relationships, just the latest of many. His statement, and that from the French bishops on strengthening legal protection for gay unions, are in direct conflict with the 2003 statement by the CDF that all attempts at legal recognition must be strenuously opposed. So – the French Bishops’ Council for Marriage and Family, and the Pontifical Council for the Family (which Paglia heads) are in direct conflict with the CDF.

    It’s been obvious for years that on all sexual matters, the Vatican is sadly out of touch with its own people. It’s also becoming clear that professional lay theologians no longer agree with Vatican orthodoxy, and as equal marriage continues to expand across the world, many other denominations are moving towards either accepting equality and inclusion in church, or to serious, rational debate. Only the Vatican has stood implacably opposed to both.

    But now, we see that even two important church bodies, specifically entrusted with pastoral issues around family, are catching up with reality and implicitly acknowledging that “family” can include queer families. Not only is the CDF out of touch with ordinary Catholic opinion, and with the thinking of Catholic professional lay theologians, and with other Christian denominations – it’s also out of touch with pastoral thinking by the bodies most likely to have encountered and reflected on the situations of real families.

    As the movement for marriage equality accelerates around the world, with widespread support from ordinary Catholics, and overwhelming Catholic support for civil unions, the oligarchs are doing their best to catch up – but trying hard to avoid losing face. We should be gentle on our aging parents, the Holy Father and Holy Mother the Church – and hold them lovingly by the hand, as we help them to adjust to the modern world.

  2. tomfluce
    tomfluce says:

    I disagree, Francis. You are being distracted by the talk about “protection” while the central issue is about “equality”.

    I said this after I spent time on the French Bishops’ statement. As you pointed out, they and Brother Paglia are not backing off the rejection of same-sex marriage. And you want to focus on the fact that they do state quite firmly that discrimination, violence against gays is wrong. And you’re right they also talk — vaguely and disparagingly about PACS (civil marriage)– about protecting same sex couples. Let’s remember that this support really was inserted with the “All Our Children” document so it’s nothing new although it’s good to hear more of it.

    O.K. I said the central issue is “equality”. Remember that the big thrust in the French doc is that gays in no way have any claim under the principle of equality to be given the “right” to marry. They actually are “judgmental” and repeatedly so by accusing gays of being egocentric in wanting to be treated “equal” to “heteros”. The horrible stereotypical head of profligacy, loose living, derangement… that plagues gays is right out there all over again. They completely reject gays as having any claim to equality beyond the genital plumbing argument by laying out what they say is the “hetero” covenant–monogamy, life-long commitment, etc. etc. Not only are gays not able to reproduce “naturally”, they simply do not/cannot enter into the purity of a committed relationship that is totally open to promoting life in the world.

    Yeah, I think you’re being distracted by the fact that the French bishops are so “democratic”, willing to join in the debate process and even state they realize that things can develop. But take another look and see what their judgment of gays is. Sure we shouldn’t be “discriminated” against, we should be protected from being criminally prosecuted. But the inherent contradiction is still there. We’re depraved and can only achieve perfection if we commit to celibacy “until death…” Why aren’t these people spending time/money on dealing with the riot-inciting proclamations of the Pope? Remember that it isn’t the pope and a handful of hierarchs who are pushing the anti-gay agenda. Hordes of lay people, rich and powerful, however well-meaning, are the ones behind our current leadership. There are many more who are downright hateful and populate the blogosphere and won’t be happy until we all leave mother church so that she can be pursuing purity without us.

    We need to be focusing on the ability of gays to enter into as solemn a marriage covenant as heteros. And we need to transcend the biological plumbing superiority bias. Yes conceiving and giving birth to a human being is sacred and unique. But it is not superior to those who devote their life to caring for life–all the more so in the case of raising children–according to the justice tenets of Jesus. There has to be a whole campaign we can create to establish our equality.


  3. Paul Halsall
    Paul Halsall says:

    But Catholic bishops in the the US are now opposing immigration rights for the partners of citizen gay couples. That is evil because it is mean.

    I just do not trust any of them any more.


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  1. […] some claim that Paglia later backtracked from these statements, it seems that his later comments were simply a criticism of news reports which tried to make it […]

  2. […] Scicluna joins the French bishops, British Bishops, and a Vatican official who recently made similar comments regarding respect for gay and lesbian […]

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