Francis On Civil Unions, Ctd

Tyler Lopez doubts that the Pope was really endorsing same-sex partnerships in the interview published yesterday:

The pope’s statement could easily be interpreted to mean the extension of legal rights to a caregiver living with a terminally ill loved mary-knots-SD-thumbone. Some civil unions also allow widows who wish to form a new romantic partnership to keep Social Security survivor’s benefits. To give you an idea of how slow things are moving here, this represents progress: Church leaders previously suggested that widows should “have consecrated to God their remaining years in the unmarried state.”

Being exceedingly careful not to issue any errant endorsements of a loving commitment between same-sex partners, the pope only suggests that the Vatican should examine and evaluate the circumstances of governmentally recognized relationships.

Yes, but it’s clear that gay couples could be included in such arrangements … and did you expect an American secular liberal to run the Catholic church anyway? I sure didn’t and wouldn’t want one to. Elizabeth Dias is on a shrewder path. She interprets the statement as another step in Francis’ tone-shifting project:

He also, once again, reminded the world that his papacy seeks to welcome gays, not to judge. It pointed to his desire to see a church of pastors, not of doctrinaires. It was a loud echo of the five most famous words of his papacy so far: “Who am I to judge?” He uttered them in reply to a reporter’s question on gays in an impromptu press conference last July. Even that brief gesture of increased compassion from the Holy See sent shockwaves through global Catholic communities, and it signified the shift in tone that put Francis on the cover of LGBT magazine The Advocate’s as their 2013 Man of the Year.

Allahpundit weighs in:

A Christian friend who supports gay marriage has always insisted to me that there’s no real contradiction between her faith and her views on SSM.

Religion has its sphere and civil society has its sphere; so long as the Church gets to set the rules in its own house, i.e. by not having to recognize or perform same-sex marriages, it can be agnostic about which sorts of relationships the government chooses to legally recognize. I don’t know if Francis would go that far, although there are credible reports that he privately endorsed civil unions for gays in Argentina as a potential compromise position while the country was debating legalizing gay marriage. Either way, the bit above about taking care not to vaccinate people against faith is consistent with his pronouncements on family/sexual matters so far: He seems reluctant to get caught up in these disputes for fear that they’ll sidetrack his bigger-picture vision for the Church, which has more to do with charity for the poor and less with culture-war flashpoints that risk alienating more socially liberal believers. It’s not quite a “truce” a la Mitch Daniels but more a matter of emphasis. Or so it seems to a humble atheist.

Look: Pope Francis is the first Pope to come from a country that already has marriage equality. He has long understood the distinction between a religious truth and a civil law. And the church in Argentina hasn’t shriveled up and died since marriage equality arrived. In my view, the church can easily assent to civil unions as it easily consents to civil divorce: as long as it’s a civil matter and not a religious one, this is simply a consequence of living in a pluralistic society, and since the Second Vatican Council, the church has come to terms with that.

John Gallagher sees other reasons to be hopeful that things are getting better in the Church:

This isn’t the only recent sign that the Vatican may be softening its antigay stand. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the Vatican condemned Uganda’s antigay laws, saying that “homosexuals are not criminals” and shouldn’t be sentenced for up to life in prison. In most corners, this would be met with a “duh,” but in the Vatican this is actually bold.

One more hint that change might be afoot: the Jesuit magazine America recently ran an editorial echoing Turkson’s condemnation. Perhaps more interesting, the magazine also ran a cover story that concluded that Pope Francis does seem to be shifting the Church’s stance on LGBT issues, though not its doctrines, with a greater emphasis on dealing with people where they are instead of judging them in advance.

America is not taking a different stance than it has in the past; it’s a pretty progressive Jesuit publication. Heck, it even had me on the cover in the 1990s making the case for gay inclusion in the church. So I wouldn’t read too much into that. FOD Dan Savage argues that if Francis really is endorsing civil unions, he’s 30 years too late:

If Christians had looked at the suffering of gay men in AIDS wards in 1985 said, “The lives, loves, and rights of these couples must be protected,” and if conservative Christians had proposed civil unions then and gotten a civil unions statute signed into law by the conservative Christian president they helped elect, that might’ve halted the push for marriage equality before it could even get off the ground.

But now that we’re winning marriage—now that victory is assured—the pope is willing to maybe think about supporting some type of civil union scheme. I’ll say to the pope what I said to my evangelical Christian pal: that fucking ship has fucking sailed. What the pope is saying to gay people in 2014 is this: “Okay, now that you’re winning marriage, here’s an idea: give marriage back and we will give you civil unions… which we once opposed with the same intensity and in the same apocalyptic terms that we oppose marriage today. Is it a deal?”

No deal, Francis.

Of course that’s right, but Francis is really talking about this topic within a Catholic context. He’s talking about how the church can understand these matters, not the state. That’s a start, at least. It’s a return to the spirit of humility and inquiry that led to the 1975 document that insisted that homosexual orientation was no sin. Unlike civil society, moreover, Catholicism has a long and deep theology wrapped up in a Thomist understanding of gender, sex and love. That cannot and should not be junked overnight to meet Western secular standards. It requires a difficult discussion about how the church’s teachings on homosexuality impact its teachings on love and family and sexuality as a whole. It requires a process of deliberation, prayer and thought. I see Francis as doing one thing: allowing a real debate about these matters for the first time since Ratzinger shut it down two decades ago. And we will only see its fruit in a few decades’ time. But the challenge now for gay Catholics, it seems to me, is engaging in this conversation, telling our truths to our fellow believers, and seeking a way for the church to reconcile its teachings of the equal dignity of all human persons with its demand that gay people lead lives without intimacy or close family at all. Francis has invited us in; we should take him up on the offer.