The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, in response to Pope Francis announcing his support for civil unions that recognize same-gender couples.
New Ways Ministry gratefully welcomes Pope Francis’ latest support for civil unions for same-gender couples. It is an historic moment when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, long seen as a persecutor of LGBTQ people, moves in such a supportive direction for lesbian/gay couples and their families. It signals that the church is continuing to develop more positively its approach to LGBTQ issues.
At the same time, we urge Pope Francis to apply the same kind of reasoning to recognize and bless these same unions of love and support within the Catholic Church, too. Since the pope framed his support for civil unions by saying that same-gender couples are “right to be a part of the family,” it would not be a long stretch for him to do so.
Bishops, priests, and theologians in the German-speaking church have been making strong calls for blessing same-gender couples for several years now. The Synodal Way process in Germany may issue its support of recognizing and blessing these unions in the church early next year.
Pope Francis support for full civil marriage rights, beyond civil unions, is needed, too. Traditionally Catholic nations have one-by-one been passing civil union and marriage equality laws for a while now. Among them: Argentina, Austria. Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ireland, Malta, Mexico (in part), Portugal, Spain, and Uruguay. Such recognition shows that overwhelming majorities of Catholic citizens support legal protections for same-gender couples.
While this is certainly the pope’s strongest statement in support of civil unions, he has hinted at support for such legal recognition at least twice before. Before his election as pope in 2013, while archbishop in Argentina, Francis endorsed civil unions as an alternative to the movement for marriage equality. In a 2017 interview as pope, he gave tacit approval, saying rather than marriage, the relationships of same-gender couples should be referred to as civil unions. (For a chronology of ALL Pope Francis’ statements and actions on LGBTQ issues, click here.)
The pope’s statement could have a great impact on an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case, Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia, in which the rights of legally married lesbian and gay couples to adopt or foster children from Catholic social service agencies is at issue. If the pope supports such couples, what should prevent lower-level Catholic officials from doing so.
This statement will have an effect beyond church discussions and legal debates. When the pope says something positive about LGBTQ issues, he sends forth an enormous wave of goodwill to LGBTQ people, and, at the same time, teaches a positive lesson to people whose anti-LGBTQ views are religiously-based. It is no overstatement to say that with this statement not only has the pope protected LGBTQ couples and families, but he also will save many LGBTQ lives.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 22, 2020