Pope’s remarks about civil unions and what it means for the Church

What did the pope say about civil unions and what does it mean for the Catholic Church? After news spread this week of a statement made by the Holy Father supposedly supporting civil unions for same-sex couples, secular media and faithful Catholics alike were flabbergasted at the news. But before we jump to any conclusions about what this means, let’s take a look at what was actually said.

A documentary about Pope Francis entitled “Francesco” premiered in Rome on Wednesday. In it, the Holy Father is seen during an on-camera interview saying, “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

Since secular media took the news and ran with it, several new developments have been uncovered:

  1. The statement in question appears to be highly edited.
  2. Though the documentarian claims that the audio is from his own personal interview, pieces seem to originate from a 2019 interview with another journalist.
  3. The translation from Spanish to English is in question. The phrase used was “convivencia civil”, which means “coexistence” or “politely getting along” more than it does “civil union.” Listen to this segment from The Patrick Madrid Show to hear more about that.

This new information calls into question the authenticity of the alleged statement by Pope Francis. But let’s take a look at what was said with the help of expert guests and bishops who provided extensive coverage of this bewildering statement over the past several days.

Right to be in a family

On The Drew Mariani Show®, Fr. Robert Dahl explained, “We know that family, according to Catholic teaching—which Pope Francis has affirmed many times—the family is based on marriage between man and a woman and of course it’s open to life and open to children.”

He further remarked, “People who undergo the difficulty of same-sex attraction are born within such a family and they need to be loved within such a family. They need to be accepted, as we are all accepted—not accepted as we are because none of us is accepted as we are. The people who love us want us to become better and they want us to strive for holiness … and holy purity.”

The documentary Francesco focuses on the Holy Father’s life of reaching out to those on the peripheries—including those with same-sex attraction who have been rejected by their families. This appears to be what Pope Francis is referring to when he said, “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family.” It’s clear that the Church must provide love for all of God’s children, though without accepting or supporting someone in their personal struggles with sin. We are all a family with God as our Father, and it’s our duty as Catholics to love and journey with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Rev. Francis J. Hoffman “Fr. Rocky”, Executive Director of Relevant Radio®, remarked that the Mission of the Church is to help souls get to heaven. If a living arrangement is an occasion of sin, we should avoid it. That’s an important thing for all of us to remember as we strive towards holiness and chastity.

What we have to have is a civil union law

But how could the Holy Father support civil union laws, which many people have equated to the Catholic Church suddenly supporting same-sex marriage? It’s unclear if this is truly a message the Pope meant to convey. Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco explained in an October 21 statement how a civil union is not the same as marriage:

“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.  Marriage is unique because it is the only institution that connects children to their mothers and fathers, and therefore is presumed to be a sexual relationship.  Indeed, the sexual relationship that marriage is presumed to involve is the only kind by which children are naturally made.  The nature of marriage, the place of sex within a virtuous life, these great teachings of the Church come to us from God, are illuminated by reason, and do not change.”

Cardinal Séan O’Malley of Boston echoed his thoughts in a similar statement on October 22:

The Pope’s endorsement of civil unions is not an endorsement of homosexual activity. Just as the Church does not campaign against civil laws that allow for common-law marriage or second marriages that are not sacramental, even though such arrangements can be in violation of the laws of the Church, the Holy Father recognizes that in civil society there can be cogent reasons to enact such laws providing for civil unions which are not the same as the institution of marriage.

“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.”

What does this mean for the Church?

For those wondering what the pope’s statement means for Church teaching, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfied, Illinois, offered a helpful explanation on October 22:

“Based on what has been reported, it appears that the Holy Father is reminding the Catholic faithful of our duty not to alienate or discriminate against people with same-sex attraction. It is also clear Pope Francis is not changing, nor can he change, the Catholic Church’s teaching that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman and that any form of sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. We have seen a pattern of media quotes by the Holy Father being taken out of context and used to suggest a change in Church teaching, so we have learned not to put too much stock in an interview quote.”

Bottom line: no, Church teaching is not changing. But if you’re still confused about this developing story, we’re here to help. Stay tuned to Relevant Radio for continued coverage of this unfolding story from expert guests.

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Lindsey Kettner serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a wife, mother, and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she studied journalism and advertising. She writes daily at relevantradio.com and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.