Statement on Pope Francis' Comments

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

Many Catholics have seen the news reports about a documentary in which Pope Francis spoke in favor of same-sex civil unions. Because we have gotten many questions about this from all corners, we offer the following to help Catholics contextualize the news and to help parents and teachers know how to respond to their students’ and children’s questions.

First, those who experience same-sex attraction have all the rights that come from human dignity and ought never experience unjust discrimination. This is the teaching of the Church.

Second, the Holy Father has been clear throughout his pontificate and before that every child has a right to his or her biological father and mother and that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Third, what the Pope says in an interview does not carry any authoritative weight in terms of Church teaching. An interview is not an encyclical or an ex cathedra statement. Popes are entitled to their own opinions, but their opinions are not Church teaching.

Fourth, the Church’s position against same-sex civil unions was expressed in a 2003 document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (or the CDF) titled Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons. The CDF provides clarifications about the Church’s teaching. The head of the CDF at that time was then Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI. In that document, the CDF taught that same-sex civil unions ought not be supported by Catholics.

While this statement is authoritative, it is not part of the ordinary infallibility of the Church. It is a prudential teaching, and prudential teachings can change depending on circumstances. Catholics cannot ignore such teachings, but, depending on their reasoning and according to the same congregation’s own 1990 document on Church doctrine (Donum Veritatis by the CDF), Catholics may disagree with the teaching. Therefore, if indeed the Holy Father did say “what we have to create is civil union law” for same-sex couples, or something equivalent, then he would be in opposition to a prudential teaching, but that’s all.

Fifth, at the same time, it seems as though the Holy Father was making a connection between the right of homosexuals to family, which is true since we all have a right to our own families, and then connecting it to same-sex civil unions. This suggests that such unions can be considered authentic families from a Catholic perspective. If indeed the Holy Father said this, then this would seem to be in direct violation of the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. Reporting has already emerged, however, that this connection is not real and that the filmmaker deliberately spliced this language together to make it appear he was saying something he wasn’t.

Therefore, we believe we should wait to see what the Holy Father actually said before we cast aspersion against anyone. But we join other bishops in asking that he, as the Vicar of Christ, clarify his statements as soon as possible, particularly if he is the victim of creative editing. In the meantime, on this Memorial of Pope St. John Paul II, we join the universal Church’s liturgy in praying: Lord “you taught your flock through the prudence and love of your saints, grant us continual growth in holiness under the direction of our pastors.” Amen.

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