In Their Own Words: Pope Francis and Cardinal Dolan on Civil Unions

In Their Own Words: Pope Francis and Cardinal Dolan on Civil Unions March 11, 2014

Pope Francis has given another interview and the internet is ga ga.

According to things I’ve read, the Holy Father has come out in favor of civil unions for homosexuals.

Cardinal Dolan gave another interview, and, again according to reports I’ve read, he agreed that the Holy Father is favoring civil unions.

This is a real show-stopper for Catholics who depend on the Church to not compromise on the basic teachings of the faith. Is the Holy Father planning to overturn Blessed John Paul II’s teaching when he said,

IV. POSITIONS OF CATHOLIC POLITICIANS
WITH REGARD TO LEGISLATION IN FAVOUR
OF HOMOSEXUAL UNIONS

10. If it is true that all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are obliged to do so in a particular way, in keeping with their responsibility as politicians. Faced with legislative proposals in favour of homosexual unions, Catholic politicians are to take account of the following ethical indications.

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.

When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth. If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided.(18) This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.

If this letter by Pope John Paul II is now to be discarded, why should Catholic politicians pay attention to other letters by succeeding popes, or, for that matter, bishops? I’m here to tell you that I took it very seriously, and taking it seriously has exacted a great cost on me and my life. If the new story is basically April Fool, it was all a joke, I’m not laughing.

I honestly think that one reason so many other Catholic politicians have failed to heed what Blessed John Paul II and later, Pope Benedict XVI, taught us is that no one bothered to teach them about it. For reasons that I do not understand, Catholics are left to find these documents, read and interpret them themselves and then act according to them all on their own. The Church does not teach what it teaches to the people in the pews.

I think that if their pastors and bishops had taken the trouble to teach Catholic teaching — including what Pope John Paul II said in this letter — to our elected officials, a good many of them would have behaved differently in the past couple of years. I also think a lot of good Catholic people would not be so flim-flammed by what the world teaches.

Despite everything I just said, I don’t expect that we will see Pope Francis overturn what Blessed John Paul II taught in this matter. I think this is just another flap caused by a reply to a question in an interview. If you read what Pope Francis actually said, it becomes clear that the only definitive statement he made is that marriage is between one woman and one man. He then goes on to enumerate a few of the many manifestations of civil unions around the globe and ends with a political sounding “we’ll take it under advisement” type comment.

Now that I’ve said my say, I want to let you decide for yourself. Here is a video of the salient portion of Cardinal Dolan’s interview. Notice that the Cardinal says he hasn’t read the Holy Father’s actual words. He’s basing his comments entirely on press reports about the interview and not the interview itself. (Mistake.)

http://youtu.be/-AfCxg2sjrY

If you want to read the full text of Pope Francis’ interview, you can find it at Catholic News Agency.

If you want a quick take, here is the question on civil unions, and the Holy Father’s answer:

Many nations have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?

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.

Jen Fitz, who blogs at Sticking the Corners, offers her take on the Pope Fancis/Civil Unions debate here.

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75 responses to “In Their Own Words: Pope Francis and Cardinal Dolan on Civil Unions”

  1. I just read the whole interview. Interesting and good as always. But seriously, THIS is the statement that makes them think he’s “okay with civil unions of gays”? He opens by defining marriage as between a man and woman! Then he declines to offer a “universal opinion” on the political creation called “civil unions” in ANY of its manifestations! This level of “mis-stating” is beyond simple confusion, painting this as a “pro gay-union” message is a deliberate lie. And it makes me suspect the media is hoping to use the Pope’s name to rubberstamp their preferred agenda, trusting that the average person won’t question their assessment of what he said. Not surprising, I suppose, but still evil.

    • “Notice that the Cardinal says he hasn’t read the Holy Father’s actual words. He’s basing his comments entirely on press reports about the interview and not the interview itself. (Mistake.)”

      The problem is that many in the Church will run with what Dolan says and not bother reading the full interview from Pope Francis.

      Cardinal Dolan does us no favors by saying what he says without doing his homework first…

      • This is just a point of information. There is nothing wrong — and a lot right — with telling a reporter “I haven’t read it yet.” They may try to get you to take a guess or extrapolate (which is what Cardinal Dolan is doing here) but you don’t have to say anything you don’t want to say.

        • I am aware of that but you know as well as I do many do not read the actual interviews and base their reactions on emotions and what others say.

          Anyway, all is speculation at this point.

          • I agree with you. I was just pointing that out so that any Public Catholic readers who find themselves in this position would be more prepared.

    • Let them “rubberstamp” all they want. I contend that it is a good thing, actually. Consider the fallen-away Catholic or the Protestant opposed to the Church because they are opposed to these positions. “Pope says it’s okay for gays to marry,” catches their ear. They come back to the Church in curiosity. Perhaps when they get another chance to be exposed to the real truth (heterosexual marriage, for one) they’ll stay. Granted, it’s a weird kind of evangelization; but nothing else is working. It’s like Judo; you are using the oppositions momentum to defeat themselves.

  2. First of all, even if Pope Francis did reverse course on civil unions, it wouldn’t be a matter of changing Catholic teaching. The letter you quoted was from the CDF, not directly from JP II, and is not of a weight that means it could not be overturned.

    I doubt that the Church or Francis would change on this, but because of the importance of access to health care, it could be possible. If it were a matter of allowing ANY two people to form a civil union rather than singling out homosexuals, it might not even be a bad idea.

    • I don’t think the Church can support civil unions, period. Supporting health care is another thing. The idea that the Church has to support civil unions to support access to health care is a red herring if there ever was one.

      I don’t mean that you are advancing a red herring Dave. Just that the whole argument itself is one. I’m sure you are sincere and don’t intend to sound otherwise.

      • But if a sexual relationship is no longer the presumed basis for having a civil union then the question of immorality can be mooted and the Church can support them on principle even if not the practice in all cases. And it’s more than healthcare. It’s taxes and retirement and social security and legal next of kin issues.

        Two siblings or cousins or lifelong friends or even a mother and her unmarried daughter should be allowed to contract a civil union if they so choose imo.

  3. “… if their pastors and bishops had taken the trouble to teach Catholic teaching…”
    That is exactly the main reason why we are where we are. They didn’t.

  4. civil unions in Italy have an entirely different meaning than civil unions in the United States. In Italy a religious marriage is not recognized and the couple must be civilly married for state recognition. Perhaps that’s why he said he could not address all the ways of civil unions??!!

    • This is correct. The interview was conducted in Italy; so it would be very plausible that the Pope was talking about Italian Civil Unions. In Italy even siblings can be in Civil Union in order for a more fortunate sibling to take care of an ill or down-trodden sibling. It does NOT specifically mean homosexual union (although they are not legally barred).
      People should stop being afraid, and trust the Vicar of Christ chosen by the Holy Spirit. I agree with Dolan that this is all good. I very much love Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and I’ve said many “Amens” to his teachings. But Francis is directing more attention on the Church than ever before. And it is not perceived as negative to the outsiders (like the endless abuse accusations). Let Francis bring the press and liberals in. Then we can sit them down, lock the door behind them, and beat some good Catholic sense into them.

      • Wrong. For state-registered true marriage we speak of civil MARRIAGE. “Civil Union” is the jargon for near-gay marriage, presumed not to be exactly marriage, but taken to be such by the press and the public. Sorry, that way out is delusionary.

      • spent much of the past exposing the endless hidden molestation of chidlren by the sex starved priests etc

        Beat sense into them? in MD 5 years in the slammer for a serious assault case

        the church does not rule the world. God bless

    • But the question about civil unions was not about Italian civil unions. The question began with: “Many nations have regulated civil unions…”

      Francis is not a stranger to the homosexual “marriage” v. civil unions debate and politics around the world. Even in his own country, he allegedly proposed civil unions for homosexuals as a compromise position to thwart the legalization of homosexual “marriage.”

      To assume that Francis somehow must have answered this question from a strictly Italian perspective is a fallacy.

  5. Ceolson is absolutely correct according to Matthew Bunsen. This is what he thought the Pope was taking about this as far as civil unions is concerned. The other statement that many had a problem with was on Pope Paul’s letter on Birth Control. MR Bunsen thought in this case he was referring to the pastoral ways to help couples who are having problems with this teaching and that is at the end of the encyclical. I have been hearing over and over again that the media is the problem and to a large extent that’s true. But last week Al Kresta spent two whole hours of this show saying he thought the answer on HV was not comprehensible to him. I think personally the Pope should stop giving interviews altogether because the media will try to spin what he says. The Pope needs better to articulate what he means so the explanations won’t keep having to be issued.

  6. The last 12 months have been some of the most distressing for me as a Catholic. Every time Pope Francis speaks to the media we are left with accident wreckage to clean up – confusion, lack of clarity, vaguenes, open-endeness are the norm. The destructive Left are rejoicing everywhere and the faithful Catholic is left muted and despondent. What is now the popular vogue will end up in a new era of watering down and decay. It’s the 1970s revisited. Oh how said … what souls will be lost!

  7. I’m so hurt by this topic in general, I failed to notice that I actually agree with the Pope. The solution isn’t civil unions for homosexuals. It is civil unions for everybody. Doesn’t matter what the relationship is- if you are intimate enough to be renting or buying a house with another adult, you are intimate enough to know each other’s wishes in case of an emergency.

  8. The Church does not teach what it teaches to the people in the pews.

    Hear, hear! This is one of the great tragedies of our time. If the Catholic Church—and others—did so, religious laypeople would be far more educated about their own faith.

  9. “I’m here to tell you that I took it very seriously, and taking it seriously has exacted a great cost on me and my life. If the new story is basically April Fool, it was all a joke, I’m not laughing.” You mean following Christ – even into being a self-righteous Puritan – has Costs? Someone should have warned you. JP II was right about a lot of things – he was also wrong about some pretty crucial things it seems. Get over yourself, get over it, and help perform works of mercy. I think, and hope, the Pope’s larger point is WHO CARES about who is sleeping with who and what so long as PEOPLE ARE DYING HUNGRY IN THE STREET – THE POOR ARE ROBBED OF THEIR WAGES – THE UNBORN ARE VACCUUMED OUT OF EXISTENCE (a proud laurel of the Conservative Catholic movement in the U.S. – that’s real and the one saving feature of the rest of your uptight resentment(s)). – there are SERIOUSLY MORE URGENT PROBLEMS TO ADDRESS – NO?

    • I’ve allowed a number of rude comments, so I might as well allow this one, too.

      You misunderstand me. Even though it hurts — and sometimes hurts quite a bit — I am not only willing, but honored to suffer for Christ and His Church.

      That includes picayune nonsense like calling me a self-righteous Puritan because I think marriage is and should be legally defined as between one man and one woman. In truth, that sort of thing is so childish that it’s more funny than insulting.

      As for the other issues you mentioned, I agree with you about most of them. You might be surprised to learn how much I’ve worked on several of them.

      Even though I’ve allowed this comment, if you want to continue commenting on this blog, you really need to be more courteous toward others.

    • Isn’t “Who sleeps with who and what” an issue that is distinct from ‘the hungry’, ‘the poor’ and the aborted?
      It seems you are trying to discount and justify the former, by conflating it with the latter and also doing it rather uncharitably.

  10. Look, we’ve lost the issue. In such cases where the overwhelming majority (including Catholics) supports SSM politicians can only do the expedient course of action. That is how democracy works. It’s the will of the people.
    Now perhaps one can argue that the overwhelming majority does not support it yet. I think that’s only a transient moment. Such referendum gather momentum. Unless someone is going to forceably argue against it, the momentum will reach its natural conclusion. I see no one forcably arguing against it, including the Bishops, Cardinal Dolan, or Pope Francis. Even in the past decade when we held a majority of support, no one of stature was forcably arguing against it.

  11. If the Church ever sanctions homosexual behavior in ANY way, I am out of it without a second thought because it will mean that the truth is no longer in it.

    • If Francis actually sanctioned homosexual behavior in any way, then he would (conditional tense) no longer be pope, because a pope’s main function is to guard the faith as transmitted from the time of the Apostles. He would then become an anti-pope, and there would be an immediate schism, with the pro-homosexual crowd on the wrong side, i.e., outside the Church.

      But the One Holy Catholic Apostolic (and, shall we add Orthodox) Church would continue, around the numerous faithful, priests and bishops who would not follow a new Henry VIII. In fact, and if such a schism happened, this would be the ideal moment in the Universal Church’s history to reunite with the Orthodox churches, whose leadership at this time is very strongly opposed to the homoheresy of the West.

      • I’ve been too busy to deal with this. I think both of you need to calm down. Jesus said: On this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it.

        Do you think He was lying?

        • I wish I had a dollar every time I’ve heard or read someone unthinkingly quoting this… Then what about ““But, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)? Do you think He just was temporarily depressed?

        • (1) I used the conditional tense.

          (2) Numerous men in history claimed the papacy and even sat in Peter’s Chair. Yet they turned out to be antipopes and lost (actually, never had) the power of Petrine primacy. What makes our era so special, that it has become anathema for Catholics to believe that history can indeed repeat itself in that matter? Is our era so holy, moral, and blameless, that it is impossible to have yet another antipope?

          (3) Christ was not lying. The gates of heII will never prevail against his Church. If there were an antipope (conditional tense again), then he would no longer be the Rock, and another Rock would be chosen to lead the Church.

  12. Unfortunately for all involved, the Holy Father’s words tend to cast more shadow than light on a given topic. It’s like he thinks everybody is on the same page with him, when the majority of people, especially in the press but including the majority of U.S. Catholics, haven’t opened the book yet. A situation where it is easy for the secular world to rip into those of us who know the Holy Father has no authority to bless same-sex unions of any stripe….

  13. Yeah. It didn’t sound like he gave any approval in regards to civil unions. His statement seemed more an explanation of why governments enact them. But his first words, which regarded marriage, were very clear. Why does the media wish to translate his words so carelessly? Are secular journalists really becoming that careless? Or is it because they know their readers are that careless/gullible and can therefore get away with putting words in the Pope’s mouth? (I think it is a combination of both)

  14. The problem is due to an incorrect application of “love the sinner, hate the sin.” While this view is true, and the Church in her mercy teaches this, it has been distorted by the press, the politicians, and even the faithful. I hear constantly that homosexual marriage is wrong (which it is), but that homosexual “couples” should not be discriminated against in area of inheritance, tax treatment, etc. This is a contradiction. If homosexual marriage is wrong, then homosexuals should not be permitted all of the benefits of marriage. Otherwise, there is no reason to deny them the status of “married.”
    In other words, it makes no sense to say that two men can not be “married,” but can live together as a married couple, transfer property to each other on death as a married couple, make healthcare decisions as a married couple, etc.
    Polls suggest that Americans are now moving toward supporting homosexual “marriage.” If that is true (I’m not sure I quite believe those poll numbers), then the reason for this sudden change (just a few years ago massive numbers voted to keep marriage as an institution of one man and one woman) is that our enforcement of traditional marriage has become squishy.
    Homosexual men (or women) should not be living together. Yet, who has ever heard anyone suggest that they shouldn’t? Homosexual men (or women) should not be adopting children. Yet, where is the Church leadership attacking this massive time-bomb? Homosexuals should not be acting like married couples. Yet, who is saying this? No one.

    • yes – you dont force your beliefs on others. You can do as you want re your church and marriage but the world is changing. no less a conservative then Orin hatch – utah senator a couple days ago said “within a year gays will b e able to (civil law) marriage nationwide

      Then there is Conservative scotland where gays won the right to marry a couple months ago by a vote of 105 to 18 – almost 6 to 1

      In the USA catholics who go to mass weekly are one of the most supportive groups in the nationr e gays marrying

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2013/10/poll-most-catholics-who-attend-mass-weekly-support-gay-marriage-women-priests/

      • btw in the last few years re marriage for gay couples

        Iceland, Denmark, spain, portugal, france, england, scotland, Luxemburg, Mexico, Argentina, Equador, columbia (situation confused) Brazil, Wales, majority of the population of the USA in states with marriage equality. Finland (last of the nordic states, delayed so long due to soviet domination in the past) Canada (2005 nationally) Repub of south afmica . Israel recognizes gay marrriages from elsewhere, orthodox there control marrrriage for Jews and are stuck in a 4000 year old time warp

        Virtually all of the rest of western Europe, anohter south amer nation, forgott the name. Very cath malta got CUs with full adoption rights. Estonia with ccivil unions.

        Ireland almost certain to have Mar= next year. Bishop of NO. Ireland supports marriage=

        The pope is simply trying to find IMO a way to be nice about the situation without a revolt. BTW he prromised to clean out the curia of the stuck in the muds, just demoted Edmund burke of ex St louis to ceremonial post More will go out the door now he knows who the ancient history believers are, before the next conclave

        PLaces in the western world with no relationship recognition for gay couples – the closer you get to commie russia and of course the Islamic states

  15. I need to constantly remind myself not to confuse real journalism with agenda journalism. Agenda journalism is pretty much the norm anymore. Take any story and force it into a ‘progressive’ narrative.

  16. The very fact that Francis begins his answer with a reference to marriage while the questions was strictly about civil unions is worrisome. Why did he — in his mind and in his answer — equivocate the two?

    • I think you’re going far past the words of his statement. He made it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. There was nothing in his comment that equated marriage with civil unions. He then gave list of a few problems with civil unions, and ended with what sounded like a polite dismissal. There may be more — or less — to it than this. But nothing in these words lead to that conclusion.

      • Where, in Francis’ answer to the journalist’s question on civil unions, do you see a “polite dismissal”?

        Many see his reference to health care as his endorsement (rather than dismissal) of civil union laws, which in our contemporary moral and legal context includes homosexual civil unions.

        Considering the seriousness and importance of health care in the Social Doctrine of the Church, how do you argue that he “dismissed” the issue?

        (FYI, this is not a “gotcha” question. It is a real question for dialogue, so please do not just sarcastically dismiss it [no pun intended] as you usually do when you perceive that a Catholic institution [like the papacy] is “under attack”).

        • I don’t have it in front of me and no time to look. But frankly, the whole thing sounded like a polite dismissal. The past part sounded to me like basically, a “we’ll take it under advisement” kind of comment. It may be different in your neck of the woods, but where I’m from, that means “no.”

          • For someone who is actively writing about that particular issue in defense of a sound Catholic response, to say “I don’t have it in front of me and no time to look” is, to say the least, very strange.

            If I may remind you, you started this discussion on your blog. So why dodge now?

            Anyway, as a shortcut, here’s the journalist’s questions and the pope’s answer (And guess where I got it from? From a prominent quote in your own article! So much for “I don’t have it in from of me…”):

            Many nations have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?
            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.

            Okay, now that it is “in front of you” and you won’t have to make excruciating time sacrifices to fetch it, can we continue this discussion for the benefit of the many Catholics who are, to say the least, confused about this?

            Let me reiterate my original questions:

            Q1: Where, in Francis’ answer to the journalist’s question on civil unions, do you see a “polite dismissal”?

            Q2: Many people see his reference to health care as his endorsement (rather than dismissal) of civil union laws, which in our contemporary moral and legal context includes homosexual civil unions. Considering the seriousness and importance of health care in the Social Doctrine of the Church, how do you argue that he “dismissed” the issue?

            Thank you for answering.

            “Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you” — 1 Peter 3:15

            • I’ll allow this because you are new here and may not understand how things work on this blog.

              I don’t allow this kind of rudeness, to anyone, including myself.

              I have quite a few other things I’m doing besides answering your questions. If you want to engage in conversations here — and you are certainly welcome to do that — you need to be courteous.

              As for my answer to your question, I think what I said previously suffices.

  17. Regarding the pope’s example of health care as a possible reason why some nations have decided to legalize civil unions (ref.: his answer to the journalist’s question on civil unions), liberals are already playing it this way: “the pope said civil
    unions are good because it allow everyone to benefit from health care
    laws, which is very important for the Catholic Church.”

    Any ideas how to answer that?

    • Doesmt ,matter = ore and more nations are legalizing civil law marriage for gay couples.

      the fundamental problem is that in most nations marriage is both a civil law deal called marriage and a religious deal called marriage

      Its much to late to change things but it should be “civil unions for all re legal benefits etc

      Holy matrimony for churches ceremonies

      Churches should not be involved in the legal biz of marriage IMO (youre entitled to disagree) France actually has this sort of thing

      Pas du civil – civil unions for legal / economic benefits,

      Holy matrimony for church ceremonies etc

      Unfortunately we are all, on both sides, victims of history

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