Today’s post is part of Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage of Pope Francis’ support for civil unions that recognize same-gender couples and reactions to it. For previous reports and commentaries, see the bottom of this post.
While many bishops worldwide, as well as a top official with the Archdiocese of New York, have publicly criticized Pope Francis for his support of civil unions that recognize same-gender couples, one bishop in Mexico has offered strong praise for the pontiff.
Bishop Raúl Vera of Saltillo, had grateful words for Pope Francis. Crux reported:
“‘It makes me very happy that a new door is opening in the church for people who still don’t have a place in it because God is going to ask about them,’ the 75-year-old Vera said, adding that those who suggest Francis’ comments were misinterpreted just don’t want to hear the message.
“‘It is very important that we initiate a new stage in the relationship of the Catholic Church with the LGBT family in the world,’ Vera said.”
Vera’s comments contrast greatly with the critical responses from most bishops who commented on the pope’s words. Several bishops have also taken a more moderate and “wait and see” approach.
Perhaps the most noteworthy negative response is a blog post, titled “Dealing with Papal Mistakes,” that was published on the Archdiocese of New York’s website by Ed Mechmann, Director of Public Policy and of Safe Environment Program for the archdiocese. Mechmann charges Pope Francis with “formal cooperation” in promoting civil unions, something expressly prohibited by a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This senior archdiocesan official concludes that the pope’s support is “a mistake by a man with good intentions but who just got it wrong,” which requires correction either by Francis, “his press team, or our own bishops. Hours after the blog was posted, an explanatory note was added saying the post did not represent the Archdiocese’s position.
In an interview reported on by the National Catholic Reporter, Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, who once challenged Pope Francis to fire him and said the papacy “doesn’t feel clear and stable anymore,” commented:
“‘A pope could have had opinions contrary to the deposit of faith 500 years ago,’ he said, suggesting that the widespread availability of new media and developed forms of communications has altered the way papal pronouncements are received around the world.
“‘What’s getting broadcast around the world is Pope Francis’ opinion on this [civil unions], and I think that is confusing and very dangerous,’ adding ‘there are evil forces that would love to destroy the Catholic Church.'”
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, issued a statement, saying the pope’s support “needs to be clarified” because civil unions “which seek to simulate holy matrimony” are “not admissible.” The bishop also tweeted, seemingly flippantly:
“Popes John Paul and Benedict, in formal teaching said that same-sex civil unions were wrong and that Catholics had to oppose them. Pope Francis, in a movie, said that same-sex civil unions were helpful and should be promoted. So, I ask, how could there possibly be any confusion?”
Not every episcopal statement was entirely negative.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco issued a statement commenting of civil unions:
“I would add that a civil union of this type (one which is not equated to marriage) should be as inclusive as possible, and not be restricted to two people of the same sex in a presumed sexual relationship. There is no reason, for example, why a brother and a sister, both of whom are unmarried and support each other, should not have access to these kinds of benefits.”
Archbishop Bernard Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis issued a more positive take in his statement. While reiterating that marriage could not be ‘redefined,’ he added:
“While Church teaching on marriage is clear and irreformable, the conversation must continue about the best ways to reverence the dignity of those in same–sex relationships so that they are not subject to any unjust discrimination (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358). The Pope seems to be emphasizing that we are called to find ways of extending a true sense of family to those who find themselves on the margins, so that they might experience the security of belonging and the joy of encountering the life–changing mercy of Jesus Christ.”
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, one of Pope Francis closest advisors, issued a statement that reads, in part:
“Pope Francis has seen civil unions as a way for governments to provide protections and health care for couples in long-term, committed relationships, whether they be siblings or friends or partners. Such arrangements are not always of a sexual nature. . .The Holy Father is very aware of the suffering and alienation of homosexual individuals, gay people, who are rejected by family and society. He is also keenly aware of the parents and loved ones who also suffer because a member of their family is bullied or marginalized for being different.”
Other church officials and dioceses held varying positions:
- Bishop Arturo Bastes, emeritus of Sorsogon, Philippines, said it was a “shocking statement” and he was “really scandalized.”
- Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, Philippines, questioned the documentary’s integrity, suggesting it was “just for propaganda so that it could be talked about or patronized.”
- Cardinal Raymond Burke, a former Vatican official, described the pope’s comments as “as simple private opinions of the person who made them.”
- The Diocese of Charleston , South Carolina, offered in a statement that “the Holy Father does not use secular documentaries to offer definitive teaching on matters of faith and morals.”
- Bishop Michael Olson of Forth Worth, Texas, said the pope’s comments “have led some to the erroneous conclusion that the Church’s teaching on marriage has changed or is about to change,” which, Olson wrote, is not possible.
- The Archdiocese of Denver tried to downplay the pope’s comments, suggesting “the short clip in the documentary does not have enough context to make any sort of conclusion on his intentions.”
- Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont, also argued “one does not know what the context of the segment was, what the pope was speaking about in particular,” and said the bishop chose “not to interpret what the Holy Father may or may not have said.”
- The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council in India denied church teaching had changed, claiming that when it comes to civil unions, “The church is considering adding those in such relations to the flock. This was announced earlier also.”
- Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said in a statement that the pope’s comments “reflect his pastoral approach to persons who may be on the peripheries of society,” reflecting Jesus call to “treat each other with fairness and dignity.”
- Bishop Oscar Cantú of San Jose, California, said the pope “seemed to be offering a pastoral response to the reality of same-sex couples living without legal protections and often subject to violations of their human dignity and even violence.”
- Bishop William Joensen in Des Moines, Iowa, said the pope’s words were “surprising” and “troubling,” as well as merely a “longstanding personal opinion.”
- Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, commented, “much, too much is being made about [the pope’s comments]. . .[they] really doesn’t merit the response that either party is giving it.”
- Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester, Massachusetts, challenged Pope Francis, saying the bishop looks forward “to further clarification from the Holy See.”
- Bishop Donald Hying of Madison., Wisconsin, said “church doctrine is not developed through quotations from films,” and also awaited clarification.
- Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio, Texas, said the church “will offer clarifying comments and speak more in-depth regarding his remarks in the documentary.”
Based on all of theses comments, I would like to make some brief points.
Under the regimes of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI even minimal criticism of the pontiff would have led to silencings and punishments. Sustained, widespread criticism of the pope by bishops was unthinkable. The number of statements listed above will likely grow. These statements offer clear evidence of the stern opposition Pope Francis faces from the U.S. episcopate in particular. But this pope has welcomed dialogue and even dissent as he moves the church to more deeply receive Vatican II.
In addition, a number of U.S. bishops’ reactions to these remarks about limited rights for same-gender couples have been released much quicker and with a harsher tone than statements about issues like the caging of migrant children or the Black Lives Matter movement. And some bishops have not issued any statements at all on these other pressing social issues. The myopic opposition to LGBTQ equality that is true for so many U.S. bishops has nearly vacated their moral authority in the secular world, and in large swaths of the church. And what little authority these bishops have left, they continue to use in misguided ways.
Pope Francis’ support for civil unions follows in the path of church leaders who have spoken positively about same-gender couples, including in defense of legal rights. New Ways Ministry’s list of Catholics supportive of LGBTQ relationships includes cardinals and bishops, as well as lay leaders and religious. Each of these leaders has prioritized the Catholic social justice tradition over sexual ethics in recognition that every person deserves human rights protections based on the inherent dignity of each person. (To view that list, click here.)
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 24, 2020
Bondings 2.0’s Coverage of Pope Francis & Civil Unions
October 22, 2020: “The Good and the Bad of Pope Francis’ Support for Civil Unions”
October 24, 2020: “Exuberant Praise for Pope Francis from One Bishop, But from Others, Not So Much”