It’s becoming so common that it almost seems “un-newsworthy.” Yet another church prelate has announced his support for civil unions for lesbian and gay couples.
This latest announcement is particularly important because it comes from another Vatican official, Archbishop Piero Marini, president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses. In February, Archbishop Vincent Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family, also announced his support for civil unions.
John Allen of The National Catholic Reporter reports that Marini revealed his support in an interview with La Nacion newspaper in Costa Rica, which just closed a Eucharistic Congress. Here’s the relevant part of the interview (translated by The National Catholic Reporter):
“Q: Costa Rica has opened a discussion about what it means to be a secular state. What do you think of these decisions?
A: This is already a reality in Europe. A secular state is fine, but if it turns into a secularist state, meaning hostile to the Catholic Church, then there’s something wrong. Church and state should not be enemies to one another. In these discussions, it’s necessary, for instance, to recognize the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized. What can’t be recognized is that this [union] is equivalent to marriage.” (emphasis mine)
(John Allen’s blog post contains the entire English translation of the interview; for the original Spanish-language version of the interview, click here.)
We have in this statement, the familiar caution that civil unions should not be considered equal to marriage, which may put a damper on this development, However, I’ve argued before, viewed in context, the approval of civil unions is really a giant step forward. No one would have guessed even a year ago that there would possibly be so much growing support for civil unions among the hierarchy. For a list of recent statements by bishops and cardinals, click here.
Of course, the most newsworthy recent announcement of civil unions support came with the revelation that when Pope Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he supported the idea of civil unions as a compromise. John Allen provides some interesting background to this piece of news:
“On March 19, TheNew York Times reported that when Argentina was gearing up for a bitter national debate on gay marriage in 2009 and 2010, Bergoglio quietly favored a compromise solution that would have included civil unions for same-sex couples.
“That report was denied by Miguel Woites, director of the Argentinian Catholic Information Agency, a news outlet linked to the Buenos Aires archdiocese. Woites insisted Bergoglio would ‘never’ have favored any legal recognition of same-sex unions and said the Times report was a ‘complete error.’
“In early April, however, a senior official in the Argentine bishops’ conference told NCR that Bergoglio did, in fact, favor civil unions.
“Mariano de Vedia, a veteran journalist for Argentina’s leading daily, told NCR he could confirm Bergoglio’s position had been correctly described in the Times account.
“Guillermo Villarreal, a Catholic journalist in Argentina, said it was well known at the time that Bergoglio’s moderate position was opposed by Archbishop Héctor Rubén Aguer of La Plata, the leader of the hawks. The difference was not over whether to oppose gay marriage, but how ferociously to do so and whether there was room for a compromise on civil unions.
“Villareal described the standoff over gay marriage as the only vote Bergoglio ever lost during his six years as president of the conference.”
Perhaps most interesting is Allen’s reporting of a speculation of how Pope Francis might react in the future to the idea of civil unions, now that he is in Rome:
“Speaking today on an Italian cable news network, church historian Alberto Melloni, seen as a voice of the progressive wing of Italian Catholicism, predicted that ‘sooner or later, this openness [to civil unions] will arrive in the magisterium of the pope.’ However, Melloni also said he believes Francis will move with ‘caution’ and ‘prudence.’ “
With the number of bishops speaking out for civil unions, especially those right in the Vatican, perhaps Francis won’t have to be as cautious as Melloni supposes.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry