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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Realism, the Pope, and the case for civil unions

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 28, 2020

Writing about the Pope’s much-remarked comments about remarks on civil unions Ryan Anderson and Robert George observe that “there is a plausible interpretation of Pope Francis’s comments under which they are consistent with historic Catholic teaching and moral reality.”

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That’s true. It is possible to square what the Pope said with the Catholic tradition. But it isn’t easy—particularly when the Pope and the Vatican let the widespread misinterpretation of the remarks (if indeed it is a misinterpretation) stand uncorrected. Anderson and George write:

However, it is up to Pope Francis to make clear that this interpretation is sound, and lest the faithful be kept in confusion (and distress), it is his obligation to provide the necessary clarification.

We have seen no clarification. Instead we have seen the Venezuelan strongman, Nicolas Maduro, citing the Pope’s words as he asked legislators to consider legal recognition for same-sex marriage. And we have seen a Washington Post editorial encouraging judges to ponder the papal remarks when weighing the rights of Catholic institutions to uphold the Church’s perennial teachings. Rightly or wrongly, leftist politicians are quoting the Pope to their advantage, and the Vatican is not correcting them. Qui tacet consentit: Silence gives consent.

Having said that one could reconcile the Pope’s statements with previous Church teachings, Anderson and George go on to say that “there is nothing intrinsic to a civil union… that has to conflict with moral reality…” They cite San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s analysis:

… 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.

Perhaps so. But what you would then have would not be a piece of “civil union” legislation as commonly understood. You would have instead a piece of legislation expanding the legal rights of any two or more people who happened to be domiciled at the same address. If there are convincing arguments for that sort of legislation, those arguments should apply to all sorts of living arrangements, not just to homosexual partnerships. But the Pope was talking explicitly about homosexual partnerships. And frankly, so is everyone else who promotes civil unions.

The point of civil-union policies—the only reason why these policies have been proposed and advanced—is not to protect roommates in general, but to give special recognition to those roommates who are engaged in homosexual activities. There has never been any political drive for the acceptance of civil unions “not equated to marriage.” That’s the whole point.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: rfr46 - Oct. 31, 2020 11:58 AM ET USA

    Honestly, there can be no real confusion about what PF is doing. He wants the Church to follow the times in accepting homosexuality and homosexual acts. His plan is for Church teaching on this point to become dead letter, like the old sodomy statutes that remained on the books for decades but were ignored and certainly not enforced. He knows exactly what he is doing, which is de facto to change Church teaching without quite saying it.

  • Posted by: grateful1 - Oct. 30, 2020 8:02 PM ET USA

    It should hardly be surprising that the Venezuelan leftist is throwing the words of the Argentinian leftist in the faces of his own people. What SHOULD be surprising--but sadly, isn't--is that the latter is content to have the former do it. As is typical of leftists, neither man recognizes any obligation to act within his legitimate sphere of authority, and each is willing to exercise raw power to achieve his own ends. In both cases, "moral reality" be damned.

  • Posted by: feedback - Oct. 28, 2020 6:10 PM ET USA

    The Catechism teaches: "Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved." This means that "civil unions" cannot have any acts of "consummation." And for the activists it's all about Church's approval of those acts. Francis is not helping anyone: why raise false hopes, or allow false interpretations?