While Some Continue to Laud Pope’s Support for Civil Unions, Others Have a Different View

Fr. Bryan Massingale

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.

Theologians and LGBTQ Catholics, as well as secular advocates for equality, have continued to offer mostly positive appraisals on Pope Francis’ reiterated support for civil unions that recognize same-gender couples.  Yet, others take a different perspective on the pope’s words.

Fr. Bryan Massingale, who is an openly gay priest and who holds an endowed chair in Fordham University’s Theology department, told NPR’s “Morning Edition” he was “jubilant” upon hearing the pope’s words. He called it an “affirmation of the humanity of gay and lesbian persons,” adding further:

“I see this as a necessary step in the evolution in the church’s thinking on same-sex issues. . .What the pope is doing with this kind of declaration, he is clearly putting the church on the side against the criminalization of behavior and in favor of protecting the dignity of gay and lesbian persons.”

Natalia Imperatori-Lee

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a theologian at Manhattan College, suggested the pope’s words could “prompt Catholic institutions to stop firing teachers, catechists, music ministers and others who are part of the LGBTQ community and a vital part of the Catholic community as well,” according to the Associated Press.

David Gibson, who directs the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University, told the Associated Press:

“‘These words from the pope will inflame many on the Catholic right … but they will be a balm to the vast majority of Catholics and, I daresay, pastors. . .They don’t want to engage in these ugly culture war battles, especially because gay Catholics are not abstractions — they are in their homes, part of their families, and part of their parishes.'”

David Gibson

Gibson told the PBS News Hour that both the tone and content of the pope’s words were “very significant,” adding:

“Look, he’s calling for an actual civil union law. He’s calling for the church to welcome these people, welcome gay people in the secular sphere. And that’s something that goes against the policy of the Catholic Church itself. In 2003, they said Catholics cannot support civil unions.

“Again, this is different. He’s not calling for gay marriage in the church. But the church has said you can’t support civil unions. So, he’s upending that.

“And he’s also undercutting, I think, cultural warriors in places like the United States, who have long thought against anything resembling gay marriage. It’s also a big change in tone. And that’s really what he’s after here. He does not like the culture wars. He wants the church to be open and accepting.”

Judge Sara Smolenski, center, receiving Communion at a Methodist church’s inclusive liturgy

Judge Sara Smolenski, who was denied communion last year over her same-gender marriage, offered to ABC 13, “I don’t know what it will mean, but I can tell you this— Pope Francis has a great deal of courage to speak out.”

Two New Jersey priests, Frs. Alexander Santora and Robert Keading, told NorthJersey.com that they welcomed Pope Francis’ support. Santora said it shows the pope is “recognizing the humanity of everybody.” Keading said the question here was about “protecting couples,” offering a reminder from his decades of HIV/AIDS ministry of when LGB people were barred from seeing their sick and dying partners in hospitals.

We Are Church Ireland issued a statement, saying it “warmly welcomes the wonderful news,” but calling for the pope “to introduce church blessings for Same Gender couples and to revise teaching to remove the descriptions of LGBTQ+ people as objectively disordered and their love as intrinsically evil.”

Fired church worker Terry Gonda, right, with her wife, Kirsti Reeve

Terry Gonda, a Detroit church musician who was fired over her same-gender marriage, commented to NBC News:

“‘We still have a crisis of families being separated, of people leaving the church, of suicide, of broken spirituality. . .Let’s look at this as an opportunity for the church to live up to its message that, “You are welcome.”‘”

Some LGBTQ advocates were less optimistic. Veronica Urias, a lesbian who left the Catholic Church, told NBC News “I wanted to fully be a part of a church that I could get married in and raise a family in someday. . .I won’t be running back to the Catholic church just because I can get married.”

John Marchese, executive director of the Quixote Center, opined in a blog post:

“Regrettably, I conclude that we have no reason to think the Pope has staked out a novel position in this documentary. He has simply stated in new words what seems to be a static position over the last decade; namely, that the church should pragmatically support watered down civil unions for same-sex couples. . .And this should not be celebrated.”

Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion, wrote in a commentary that the pope’s words were good, but not enough because he still restricts marriage to heterosexual couples. Schlager concluded:

“Pope Francis: we queer Catholics call upon you and the entire church to recognize and bless the many loving and committed marriages between people of the same gender.  As the first pope to sanction civil unions for same-sex couples, we challenge you to extend your oft-stated support for the marginalized of this world by recognizing our full humanity as children of our Incarnated God.  Know that our marriages are sacramental because they are embodied signs of God’s working in the world.”

In nations where LGBTQ equality is more restricted, secular LGBTQ advocates expressed hope that the pope’s words would help legal advances, reported Crux. David Aruquipa of Bolivia, who has been working to have his same-gender relationship legalized for over a decade, said the pope’s support was “very pertinent to the legalization of civil unions.”

Fr. Boniface Ramsey, who administers St. Joseph’s Church in Manhattan, suggested to NorthJersey.com the real issue is not actually civil unions or marriage, “but papal authority, how it should be deployed and what weight it has.” Ramsey added, “I suspect that Pope Francis’ intention may be to start a discussion rather than to end it.  He has inserted himself into the fray rather than standing above it.”

Based on the many voices like those above (and the many, many bishops) who continue to join in that conversation, Ramsey seems right that the conversation about same-gender couples treatment by and recognition in the church is only at its start.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 26, 2020

Bondings 2.0’s Coverage of Pope Francis & Civil Unions

October 21, 2020: “New Ways Ministry Praises Pope’s Support for Civil Unions, Seeks Same Recognition in Church

October 22, 2020: “In New Film, Pope Francis Declares Support for Civil Unions to Protect LGBTQ Families

October 22, 2020: “The Good and the Bad of Pope Francis’ Support for Civil Unions

October 23, 2020: “LGBTQ and Catholic Advocates Worldwide Praise Pope Francis’ Support for Civil Unions

October 24, 2020: “Exuberant Praise for Pope Francis from One Bishop, But from Others, Not So Much

October 26, 2020: “While Some Continue to Laud Pope’s Support for Civil Unions, Others Have a Different View

October 27, 2020: “Fr. James Alison: Support for Civil Unions Reveals Deeper Truth About Pope Francis

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