Church revises stance on civil unions: Is Pope Francis woke?

Haley Beardsley, Contributing Writer

“Francesco,” a new documentary about the life and teachings of Pope Francis, was released in Rome only this past month, featuring a scene which appears to show the Pope endorsing civil unions for homosexuals. In an interview with the Pope for the film, director Evgeny Afineevsky showed him footage from a 2019 interview on the Mexican television network Televisa, in which a gay Catholic man emphasized the ways in which Pope Francis had changed his life. In response, he stated that “Homosexual people have a right to be in the family. They are children of God. They have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out of the family or made miserable over this. What we have to make is a law of civil coexistence, for they have the right to be legally covered. I stood up for that.”

Although this is an undeniable milestone in the fight for LGBTQ rights, the Pope’s language is unclear and confusing. Does the phrase “thrown out” refer to the ostracization of homosexuals by society in general, or specifically within one’s own family? Is the Pope encouraging same-sex couples to start a family, or is he rejecting the notion of being shunned because of sexual orientation? Does the phrase “I stood up for that” imply that he fully supports civil unions?

There is a reason for the uncertainty: the video has been edited two times over. The initial interview in 2019 was conducted by Valentina Alazraki, a longtime Vatican correspondent for Televisa. Moreover, the Vatican had struck out the parts of the interview concerning civil unions, which are the sections that Afineevsky used in the documentary. However, there is one significant sentence that is left out where Pope Francis approves civil unions, but firmly denounces homosexuality: “That does not mean approving of homosexual acts, not in the least,” he says.

Even with the concession of civil unions, Pope Francis still does not accept homosexuality. While he does not support the creation of LGBTQ families, he hopes that LGBTQ children can be accepted by their families. Pope Francis will not warmly welcome the outcasts or use his papacy to promote civil unions; they are instead an acceptable alternative to marriage — not a bridge.  

In the broader scheme, the statement was an incredible affirmation of the humanity of gay and lesbian people that the community has never received from the Catholic church. But unfortunately, it is only an incremental change that is ultimately ineffective. The church teachings hold that marriage is limited to men and women, and that gay relationships and sex are sinful for multiple reasons. For one, sex outside or legal marriage is not necessary for procreation and, therefore, is “contrary to the creative wisdom of God.” One statement issued by the Vatican in 1986 – at the height of the AIDS epidemic – minced no words about its stance on homosexuality, calling it “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

It is also possible that Pope Francis’s comments are an acknowledgment of the necessity to revise church teachings, providing a glimpse of hope for those attempting to maintain faith amid their sexuality. But as previously mentioned, one side note about civil unions from a year ago has little effect on the teachings of the Church and, sadly, should not inspire unconditional hope for the Church’s acceptance. 

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