Since becoming Pope in 2013 after taking over from the retiring Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis has often been seen as more progressive and liberal than his predecessors.
His comments on social issues, economics, and climate change have often proved divisive among more conservative factions of the Catholic Church. Now, his recent endorsement of same-sex unions could prove to be among his most controversial yet.
Why is the Pope Francis’ more progressive stance on this type of gay marriage so important? What could the consequences be? Find out all you need to know about the Pope and his recent comments below.
Pope Francis’ Gay Marriage Comments, Clarified
A new documentary entitled Francesco, which premiered in Rome earlier in October, featured the pope expressing the view that gay people should have legal protections for their relationship.
The film was made by Israeli-American director Evgeny Afineevsky. Afineevsky is openly gay himself and featured the pope answering a question fielded to him about LGBTQ+ Catholics.
In response, Pope Francis said: “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family” because “they’re children of God and have a right to a family.”
He continued: “Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.”
It’s not the first time the pope has expressed a more progressive stance on LGBTQ+ issues than we might expect from the head of the Catholic Church. However, previously he had never gone as far as to promote the idea of same-sex civil unions.
Speaking on the issue, Pope Francis said that “what we have to create is a civil union law.” Expanding on his view, he explained “that way they are legally covered.”
What Are The Pope’s Views?
Before becoming pope, the Argentinian was archbishop of Buenos Aires during a period when same-sex marriage became legalized.
This happened in 2010 when Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (as was Pope Francis’ name and title at the time) described the legalization of same-sex marriage as a “destructive attack on God’s plan”.
He promoted the idea of civil unions instead in a bid to block the marriage law. This was rejected by bishops.
An Argentinian LGBTQ+ activist revealed that the cardinal (now Pope) contacted him saying that he supported civil unions. Despite opposing gay marriage in the country, this still marks a step forward.
Since becoming pope, Francis has made various comments suggesting an increased acceptance of LGBTQ+ folk. Even back in 2013, he asked “Who am I to judge?” when responding to a question about gay priests.
Francis has also made comments in 2014 and 2017, where he didn’t go as far as in this new film but seemed at least warm to the idea of same-sex civil unions. He has consistently drawn a line between marriage and civil unions. He refers to the former as “between a man and a woman” while exploring the possibility of the latter.
He’s met with LGBTQ+ Catholics during his time as pope and has become friends with Juan Carlos Cruz. Cruz experienced clergy sexual abuse in Chile and disagreed with leaders of the church in the country over how the pope dealt with the issue.
Cruz appeared in the documentary, revealing to the audience that the pope simply said to him: “God made you gay. God loves you like you are and you have to love yourself.”
However, Francis also said in 2018 that “it is painful to say this today — people speak of varied families, of various kinds of family, but the family [as] man and woman in the image of God is the only one.”
What’s the Significance?
This is a marked departure from what previous heads of the Catholic Church have said.
Many critics have pointed to a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 2003, which states that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”
Also in the document, political support of same-sex unions was described as “gravely immoral”, as “legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The church cannot fail to defend these values.”
At the time, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was run by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — later to become Pope Benedict XVI — and was at the service of the then-pope, John Paul II. Hence, there’s a suggestion from critics that Francis has essentially changed the teaching.
This isn’t entirely correct, as there have been no changes to official doctrine. However, Francis is changing mindsets and leading by example — this a good thing, no matter how you look at it.
Other Political Views
Afineevsky’s films have long had a human rights focus, and Francesco is no exception.
LGBTQ+ issues aren’t the only topic brought up in the film, as Francis also speaks on migration. He criticizes the Trump administration for separating families at the US-Mexico border. He calls it “cruelty of the highest form”, and “something a Christian cannot do”.
Relations between Pope Francis and the President have long been rocky, as the pope criticized Trump’s plan to build a wall along the aforementioned border back in 2016.
Other issues that come up in the film include the rights of women and climate change. Here, the pope takes a more progressive stance than his predecessors.
However, the pope continues to warn against what he refers to as ‘gender ideology’ — meaning, his views on transgender rights aren’t as progressive — and he seems to clearly prefer same-sex civil unions over same-sex marriage.
Looking to the Future
What does the Pope Francis gay marriage debate mean for the future? His same-sex civil union comments are definitely a welcome departure from the rhetoric of previous popes who wouldn’t consider any type of gay marriage, but will they have any real impact?
It’s difficult to say. There’s no guarantee that his successor will hold similar views, and he hasn’t made any changes to official doctrine. However, he’s leading by example and could change the views of others within the Church. Undoubtedly, this is positive and may signal longer-term change.