Pope Francis Calls for Conscientious Objection to Officiating at Same-Sex Ceremonies

For the first time since Italy’s Parliament approved a civil unions bill for lesbian and gay couples two weeks ago, Pope Francis has commented about the issue of legally recognizing same-sex relationships.

In an interview with La Croix, a French newspaper, Pope Francis said that Catholic public officials should be excused from officiating at same-gender union ceremonies if they have a conscientious objection to such relationships.  The following is an English version of the interview on the newspaper’s website:

Pope Francis

“In a secular setting, how should Catholics defend their concerns on societal issues such as euthanasia or same-sex marriage?

“Pope Francis: It is up to Parliament to discuss, argue, explain, reason [these issues]. That is how a society grows.

“However, once a law has been adopted, the state must also respect [people’s] consciences. The right to conscientious objection must be recognized within each legal structure because it is a human right. Including for a government official, who is a human person. The state must also take criticism into account. That would be a genuine form of laicity.

“You cannot sweep aside the arguments of Catholics by simply telling them that they “speak like a priest.” No, they base themselves on the kind of Christian thinking that France has so remarkably developed.” [boldface emphasis is in the original text]

Pope Francis made similar remarks about the conscience decisions of government officials on his plane ride home from his U.S. visit in September 2015.  The issue also came up during the same visit  when the brouhaha developed over his unplanned and secretly orchestrated meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refuses to perform same-sex marriages.

Francis’ exhortation on conscience would ring truer if he would call on church officials to respect the consciences of LGBT people who have discovered that living in a committed same-gender relationship or transitioning to their true gender is the most authentic way to follow the call of God.  They, too, should be welcomed into the Christian community, which unlike employment, is not simply an economic form of association.

News that Pope Francis will visit Ireland in 2018 for the World Meeting of Families, provides him a golden opportunity to meet with recently married Catholic gay and lesbian couples to learn of their experiences and of the formation of their own consciences.  Such an encounter would surely prove educational for the pontiff, who has shown an un-pope-like curiosity to learn more about the real lives of people.

Such an education would also serve well for Cardinal Antonio Bagnasco, the president of the Italian bishops conference, who recently said that the civil unions bill equates gay and lesbian relationships with marriage. What the cardinal fails to recognize is that there is a great difference between the Italian civil unions law and marriage law, and that LGBT advocates, while glad for the civil unions bill, also lamented the fact that such unions were not on a par with marriage.   Robert Mickens, a seasoned Vatican observer in Rome, noted in a Commonweal dispatch:

“. . . . [A]ctivists that have been fighting for civil unions, and especially those who continue to call for gay marriage, say the new law is far from satisfactory. They are upset that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi watered down the original bill to appease conservative members of parliament who closely follow the bishops’ directives.

“One of their biggest complaints is that a so-called ‘stepchild adoption’ clause, which would have allowed people in civil unions to adopt the biological child of their partner, is not in the new law. Family court judges will decide on a case-by-case basis.”

Francis’ call to conscience would also sound truer if he would begin a more honest and open conversation about sexuality in the Church.  Mickens writes:

“The Italian hierarchy, which presides over a Church where every honest person knows a large percentage of the clergy are homosexually-oriented men, has done everything to perpetuate their country’s longstanding hypocrisy regarding gay people.

“Thanks to their efforts, especially to enforce deeply conservative views on family life in Italian society, many people in this country have been trapped into leading double lives. They get married, have children and some—some—secretly find sexual intimacy or a relationship with other people of their same sex. Or they join the ‘celibate’ priesthood and do the same.

“Italy’s new law has opened the door to a more honest conversation in a changing society. And hopefully it marks the beginning of the end of one of the great Italian hypocrisies.”

Yes, far from being the end of civilization, the marriage equality debates and laws have been an opportunity for people to live more authentically and freely.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

PinkNews.com: “Pope says Catholic government officials should be able to ‘opt out’ of recognising gay unions”

16 replies
  1. Gary Cox
    Gary Cox says:

    I have to say that a Catholic with such objections to a governments rules should not be hired by that government and if they won’t enforce the government’s laws they should be fired! This pope needs to stay out of government business. He has openly campaigned against gay civil rights in countries like Ireland with no success. Was he so innocent in his cozy little meeting with Ms. Davis? four times married with such a Christian conscience. There is more wisdom and kindness / love in Jimmy Carter than in this pope.

    Gary W. Cox

  2. lynne1946
    lynne1946 says:

    Thank you, Francis, good work, as always. I thought Francis enjoyed meeting real people in their own settings – what has happened to that?

  3. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    In the early 80’s, my brother was doing an MD/PhD at the University of Chicago. When it came time for his clinical rotation in OB/Gyn, he refused to be in the room when an abortion was being performed, and refused to learn how to do the procedure. He knew that this stance would put his entire career in jeopardy. He knew that he could be asked to leave the program. He had to appear before a disciplinary board, and it was ultimately decided that since he was studying pathology, and would be doing research medicine, not seeing patients, that he could continue in the program. I tell this story to illustrate that when someone acts from conscience, he/she does not impose his/her beliefs on EVERYONE, it is an individual act for which one is willing to take the consequences. My brother did not expect the University of Chicago medical school to stop the teaching of these procedures, he just could not do it himself for reasons of personal conscience. The difference now is that Kim Davis and others expect the entire society to bend to THEIR individual beliefs. That is not how conscience works, people! If government workers cannot perform all the duties required of them (ie, perform civil unions) then they need to quit their jobs as an act of conscience. They cannot impose their will on everyone. That is why I am so outraged by the birth control lawsuits (Little Sisters of the Poor, Notre Dame (my beloved alma mater), Kim Davis, etc.

    • Rely on God, not on your own knowledge
      Rely on God, not on your own knowledge says:

      amagjuka, I admire your brother for refusing to get involved in an abortion procedure while doing his clinical rotation during medical school. I am glad that he was able to remain in the program. I also believe
      that if there are people who do not have a problem doing something that goes against another person’s conscience – then perhaps the person does not have to be fired Surely, there are usually more than just
      one aspect to anyone’s job (more than one job responsibility). If not, yes, they can be let go. I do not believe Kim Davis or others who like your brother cannot in good conscience do something that goes against their conscience want to change anyone’s beliefs or impose their beliefs on others. They are simply asking, like your brother did, to be exempt. They can ask and of course (I agree with you 100%) they have to accept the fact that they can be turned down – meaning they have to look for other employment. Take the example of a Muslim or a Jew who does not eat pork (governed by and prohibited by divine Law) but gets hired to cook at a restaurant. If his/her not being able to “handle” pork causes more than a minimal burden on the restaurant, meaning the restaurant owner would have to hire another employee to prepare pork dishes, then this Muslim or Jewish person should not expect to be accommodated. If, however, the owner has other cooks in the kitchen who could do this, then the restaurant owner could have the muslim employee overseeing other dishes (not involving pork). Surely, in Kim Davis’ case, it was proven that Kim not issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbians was not causing more than a minimal burden on the County Clerk’s office in Kentucky.

      • amagjuka
        amagjuka says:

        Rely on God, the only reason my brother got an exemption was because he was pursuing research medicine and pathology. If he was practicing medicine, he would have had to learn all procedures for patient safety and health. Kim Davis was blocking all LGBT marriages, insisting that her signature on the form was offensive to her. She was imposing her will on all LGBT people seeking to be married in her state. In other words, she was not doing her job, and she did not let others in the office do their jobs, either. She was obstructing the law. She should have been fired for this.

  4. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    There are two glaring flaws in Pope Francis’ new policy that “states must respect every citizen’s conscientious objections to civil laws as a human right” (his words).

    Flaw #1. Because it’s universally agreed that what’s good for any goose is equally good for any gander, Pope Francis is not arguing that only Roman Catholics can excuse themselves from civil laws; rather, he speaks equally of all citizens — in all nations, of all faiths, and of no faith. When he excused any-citizen-with-a-conscience from complying with any civil law, (a) not only did he authorize a few public officials of conscience to stop performing civil marriages, but (b) he also authorized all same-gender couples of conscience to obtain civil marriages. Under Pope Francis’ new policy, the existence of a civil law banning same-gender civil marriage is exactly what lets any such couples use their human right of conscientious objection to get civilly married anyway.

    Flaw #2. In reality, there never was, and never will be, any human society in which civil laws are a matter of conscience and therefore optional (if societies could survive on mere conscience alone, no one ever would have invented civil laws to begin with). Since conscience alone is never sufficient, societies use laws, courts, and governments to survive.

    Governments will never make civil laws optional, but they don’t need to. Thankfully, the “human rights conscience” notion actually began 16 years ago in the Netherlands, and now has reached all 25 of the marriage equality nations, where government workers have the human conscience right to accept only jobs of which they approve, and where citizens have the human conscience right to civilly marry the spouse of their choice. No one is forced into a job performing civil marriages against their will, and no one is forced to marry (or not marry) against their will.

    Thus, conscientious objection, Instead of hindering marriage equality, is actually increasing it.

  5. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    So Francis is going to stop excommunicating women and male priests who participate in a ceremony in which the women are ordained and the male priests concelebrate, because he respects their consciences? And he is going to order that lesbians and gay men who get married civilly are not to be fired by schools and dioceses? I think not.

    When public employees paid by taxpayers don’t do their jobs, they should be fired. Or if their consciences prevent them from doing some of their duties, they should resign. Francis should address the employment and conscience problems in his own Church before telling government agencies what they should and should not do. Especially in the case where governments are protecting the rights of their all their citizens, not restricting them – which the pope would do.

    • amagjuka
      amagjuka says:

      John, I totally agree with you. This is more a fight over power than conscience. Whose “laws” will trump whose? The Catholic church seems to want its “law” to be the law of the land. This is inappropriate in a multicultural society. Conscience is for the individual. Each of us is responsible for our own immortal soul. We must engage in lifelong conscience formation and have the will to follow our consciences, even when we differ from the norms of society. It works both ways, though. I see the discrimination of LGBT people (along with sexual assault on children) to be the scourge of the Catholic church. I cannot participate in or silently watch this discrimination. I must speak up. I could not work in a Catholic school that fired a person for being gay and married. This is conscience. But it is I who must bear the consequences–for example, I would quit teaching in such a school. But then I would be out of a job. Conscience does not require that an entire society change to accommodate an individual’s conscience. When enough people speak out, the society may change (with the help of the Holy Spirit). This is the Catholic way. We should continue to speak out and protest injustice as a matter of conscience and in solidarity with our Catholic beliefs.

    • lynne1946
      lynne1946 says:

      John, you’re absolutely correct. When we separate church and state, the knife cuts both ways, not just the way that’s convenient for us!

  6. Jim McCrea
    Jim McCrea says:

    Get any and all religious ministers OUT of the business of acting on behalf of the state. Any non-ordained government employee MUST either abide by the laws of the land or be fired if they don’t want to resign.

    Only civil employees should be in the position of performing activities that result in the assignment of secular rights, benefits and responsibilities.

    Enough of this religious interference in the affairs of the state. Period!!!

  7. Loretta Fitzgerald
    Loretta Fitzgerald says:

    I think there may be another unintended good here. Conscientious objection against taking the life of another in the military is allowed. Two conditions, one, the person is still part of the military but is given a job that does not involve the direct killing of human beings. Two, the person has to prove legitimacy of his/her claim. For instance, if one is a practicing Quaker then he/she is more likely to have his/her claim verified. If they are Roman Catholic, not so much because Roman Catholicism has a bloody history of supporting, advocating the direct killing of human beings. So if one has a government position that involves presiding over a legal marriage but objects to doing so for same sex couples he/she would have to prove that the claim is legitimate and sincere. This involves reflection and discussion on why one believes what one believes. I personally believe that when these conversations occur then greater understanding can occur. I also think we need to pray not only for those who oppose same sex marriage but also for ourselves who support it. Why? It isn’t enough to support something because it’s personal. We have to stand on solid ground. It does little good to scream about “my rights” as Americans are apt to do on either side of an issue, we have to intelligently AND humbly defend it. I’m beginning to see those who rail against same sex marriage or transgender bathrooms doing so because they have never confronted such a thing. It is not in their consciousness let alone well thought out. One of the readings this week from sacred scripture has Jesus saying, “this kind can only be driven out by prayer”. Asking the average person to suddenly understand transgender reality and same sex marriage is like asking a child to understand physics. Even Jesus had to grow in age and wisdom. Thanks for reading.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Catholic public officials should be excused from officiating at those marriages if they have a “conscientious objection” to such relationships.  A month earlier, Pope Francis had warned against an “educated […]

  2. […] Inda of Morelia said the church must oppose attacks on the family, even recalling the need for conscientious objection spoken about recently by Pope Francis. He previously had said children are traumatized if not […]

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