Another Vatican Official Endorses Civil Unions

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.

Archbishop Piero Marini

Archbishop Piero Marini

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


10 replies
  1. Terence
    Terence says:

    What I find particularly interesting here, is not just the increasing numbers making sympathetic noises, or the apparently accelerating rate of increase, but also the notable rise in seniority and importance of those involved. When I reported a few years ago on a handful of bishops who repeated Cardinal Schonborn’s earlier and more cautious words on respect for the quality of same-sex relationships rather than the more customary obsession with genital acts, it was notable that those expressing support were retired, preparing to retire, or otherwise outside the direct firing line of Vatican censure. Those who have spoken up over the past year, are of substantially greater significance. They include some whose responsibilities are specifically in the field of marriage and family, in the Vatican and for the French Bishops’ Conference, the head of an unrelated department of the Curia, a prominent papabile , two further diocesan cardinal archbishops who participated in last month’s conclave, and also several more currently serving diocesan bishops,

    • tomfluce
      tomfluce says:

      Hi Terrence, Since a year ago or so that you posted my petition to support Pres. Obama’s position on DOMA, I have been admiring your work. Thank you.

      Below in my “reply” on yet another hierarch speaking positively about civil unions, I spoke to my problems regarding the counting of individual hierarchs who are willing to support (a strong word) civil unions.

      My work since 2000 when I “came out” to move the Roman Catholic Church to deal head on with the doctrinal dissent has had no acceptance. You may have noticed that I’m calling for the “Galileo Reconciliation Commission-GRC” I think it is at least as, if not more, viable than endorsing the monarchical style of ecclesiology, hoping the people in hierarchical positions will someone bring about change.

      Yet alll the while there are a majority of us SGO’s (my term, Same Gender Oriented) and allies, who knows even Brother Bergoglio, within the church who, if they “came out” would be a large moral force to deal with. People like myself–75 yrs old, ordained in ’63 with degrees from the same schools as hierarchs, married for 43 years, now “out” but still faithfully married–ought to carry some special weight of years if not experience in creating the GRC (Galileo Reconciliation Commission).

      Really it isn’t about the right or wrongness of gay, but how to find a 21st century way to dissent lovingly–no more violent catechetic denunciations, let alone universal declarations like Brother Ratzinger’s, no more firings, no more silence. Why do we have to only see schism, or defecting in order to adhere to our deepest held faith principles, our conscientious positions on issues like gay?

      Help! Yes we’re winning in the civil sector. But what are we doing about our own church?

      Thanks, again.

  2. Larry Quirk
    Larry Quirk says:

    This is the fall back position since they are losing the argument against gay marriage. They still want us to be second class citizens. The argument that they dont make now is that if civil unions become a reality that the benefits will be less than for “real” marriage.

  3. tomfluce
    tomfluce says:

    Terrence, Frank, cataloging hierarchs who are supportive of civil unions may be of some value, but to me it is not worth abandoning the Vat. II “sense of the faithful” ecclesiology for a dependance on the opinions of individuals who hold power still in the monarchical, medieval power structure. We need to be working on the only valid model. The quicker we abandon monarchy, the better.

    Sure, championing the civil sector to carve out the rights (hopefully equal) of LGBT unions is quite a change from being damned to hell everywhere. And hopefully the difference between “marriage” and “civil union” will turn out to be nonexistent. But what about all the other clerics and lay adherents to anti-LGBT doctrine (Catechism #2357,58,59) who will have their basis for ongoing persecution? Winning in the civil sphere is great. But what a shame that within the church we still have to suffer!

    What about creating a “Galileo Reconciliation Commission-GRC”? (yeh, yeh, repetitive! Give me a little more time.) I just learned about a worldwide organization, “Yes World” ( It’s overwhelming holy purposes rise to the height of the holy purposes of the Catholic church. They are working with young people and have simply amazing organizational tactics. But, whoa, we have a ready-built organizational structure. So instead of cataloging individual hierarchs, why not agree–few as we are) to start challenging our diocesan structures to start creating the GRC? This will not be a debate about sexuality but about loving dissension in the 21st century. It is a 1) call for a gathering of all conscientious supporters of change in sexual theology; 2) a call for a moratorium on all neo-medieval torture tactics–firings, ejecting gay-straight alliances, etc.; 3) a call to all conscientious opponents to agree to the GRC process, giving them respect and trust that they will genuinely accept the possibility that we’re dealing with a Galileo moment.

    Of course we will have to be creative in dealing with those who will use the neo-medieval tactics to silence us. We will have to be overwhelmingly forbearing with their tactics–especially the violent types. We will have to raise the courage level of the DADT folks who inhabit so many of our pews and offices to the point that they will act openly and increase our numbers. In numbers and united we certainly have a better chance of surviving than in the days when we could be thrown outside. Wouldn’t all these hierarchs supporting civil unions, yes even Brother Bergoglio, be willing to join us inside the church–not to debate the right or wrong of homosexuality, but to talk about doctrinal change from a sensus fidelium basis, respecting the conscientious positions of credible people.

    One caveat: norms, norms. Only if we are united with a set of norms about sexual behavior that will separate us from the stereotypes still used to describe us, we won’t get to normalize the doctrines about sexuality that will include us. I hope we have the beginnings of this as we try to convince our sisters and brothers what a GRC, a loving dissent protocol, looks like.


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