The headlines were abuzz with the latest “revolutionary” statements of Pope Francis recently. For example,the CNN Belief Blog had a piece entitled “Pope Francis: Church could support civil unions“. For some people who have no real grasp of what the Catholic Church teaches, this might sound astounding and novel. But to those of us who are familiar with that teaching and realize that it specifically prohibits unjust discrimination toward persons who are attracted to members of the same sex, it isn’t all that surprising. Many Catholics support civil unions of some form or another; some of them support very limited unions and others more robust ones. And it’s not just heterodox “Catholics” who support them; plenty of orthodox Catholics recognize that the state has an obligation to ensure civil rights and that this includes the rights of those who are not heterosexual.
John L. Allen has a good piece in the NCR about this issue. He points out that, “The pope has been a staunch opponent of gay marriage but open to legal arrangements to protect the rights of same-sex couples on matters such as health benefits and inheritance.” So it appears that he would favor civil rights while not favoring access to the sacrament of marriage and not favoring the confusing of those unions with the sacrament of marriage.
In addition, he is hardly the only Church official to hold this view, as the article makes very plain.
“Earlier in the year, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia of the Pontifical Council for the Family gave an interview to an Italian newspaper in which he basically said the church opposes gay marriage, but is open to other legal arrangements for protecting peoples’ rights.
In a subsequent interview with NCR, Paglia insisted what he said was ‘nothing new.'”
Even if Pope Francis had gone so far as to say, “Dude, civil unions are totally cool if the government wants to do that,” that would not even be remotely the most controversial or interesting thing done or said by a Pope. I have a hard time seeing how it is controversial at all.
Related: Does Pope Francis support same-sex marriages?
This one is an easy one to answer: No. Pope Francis has repeatedly stated his support for traditional marriage. He actually did so in the very interview from which the statements regarding civil unions are taken.
“Q: Many nations have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?
A: Marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the demand to regulate economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care. It is about pacts of cohabitating of various natures, of which I wouldn’t know how to list the different ways. One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety.”
And in stronger statement from 2010 he made his opposition to same-sex marriage known in unmistakable terms.
“This is not simply a political struggle, but an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill but a move of the Father of Lies, who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
I don’t think that we’ll be getting that progressive Pope anytime soon, but it has been fun watching our media outlets engage in some of the most impressive sensationalism and wishful thinking in order to put the idea out there so that they can sell their product without all that expensive fact-checking or contextualization.