No, The Pope’s Stance on Gay Civil Unions Is Not “Revolutionary”
There has been a great deal of press this week regarding Pope Francis’ declaration in a documentary endorsing civil unions for gay couples.
Some are calling it an “important step,” which in one sense may be true — i.e., in the sense of gradually updating a hopelessly out of date institution. In another sense, however, this whole thing is a bit of a smokescreen.
To explain why I think so (apart from the fact that LGBT people have been struggling in the US for civil union rights at least since the 1970's — making this not “new” at all), let’s first look at what Francis is quoted as having said, via CBC:
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “What we have to have is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”
Granted, before I pick that apart, it is important to recognize that baby 👶 steps are better than no steps. And changes that happen gradually are usually more lasting than those that are sudden… And all change has to start somewhere.
That said, despite moving the needle somewhat on public acceptance, the pope is not endorsing gay marriage. He is not welcoming LGBT people to come celebrate the sacrament of their love within the church.
He is saying it is strictly a civil matter, and therefore outside the purview of the church.
“That way they are legally covered,” is a nice sentiment, but a cop-out, especially coming from the man who literally has the authority to change ecclesiastical law and practice by declaration.
When I read the statement, coming from the head of the Catholic Church, “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” I also read the unstated theological assumption behind it: that they have the right to be in a family, but they do not have the right to start a family.
“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring…”
As here defined, marriage is only between a man and a woman, and its purpose is procreation.
Sadly, this inherently denigrates infertile couples, who despite otherwise “fitting the mold” are unable to procreate, through no fault of their own. Not to mention fertile couples who choose not to procreate, or unmarried couples who do.
It also, in my opinion, side-steps and does not take literally enough the sanctity of ALL human life, no matter its origin or up-bringing, which is also encoded in the Catechism, Section 2258:
“Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end…”
If life comes from the “creative action of God,” who is its “sole end,” and the express purpose of marriage is for the procreation and education of offspring, and the good of the spouses, then what need have we any longer to restrict the nature or status of the participants in this mystery?
Further, the Catechism, Section 2378 also asserts that children have the right “to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents.” Presumably, under this supposed theological system, children born outside this narrow definition are somehow lesser?
I’m sorry, but that is fucking stupid.
If that’s not stupid enough, 2379 reads:
“The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil. Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical procedures should unite themselves with the Lord’s Cross, the source of all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others.”
So infertility is not considered an “absolute evil” — wow, how magnanimous. <sarcasm>
Doesn’t this wording seem to imply, however, that its… I don’t know… still evil?
How about it’s not evil at all — full stop?
And furthermore, adoption need not be a “last resort” for the infertile. It can be a righteous charge taken up by anyone committed to the well-being of a human life.
If you think I’m reading this in a way that is non-canonical, I encourage you to poke around among so-called Catholics who promulgate this type of hateful nonsense, and do so in the name of the Church with apparent impugnity:
“So, because a child has a right to be “the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents,” reproductive interventions such as IVF, donor eggs/sperm, and surrogacy are always morally wrong. […]
The answer is that there is nothing wrong with the desire. The desire of a husband and wife to have a child is holy and good. But their good intention does not justify the use of evil means.”
Now, that’s just one person’s opinion, and is not necessarily what the Church itself would say — or is it? Catholic.com’s about page explains:
“Catholic Answers works each day to ensure our content is faithful to the Magisterium. […] Catholic Answers is listed in the Official Catholic Directory and is recognized as an apostolate in good standing by the Diocese of San Diego, where our main office is located.”
So, if what they assert is true, then the Catholic Church has literally no problem telling people that fertility treatments are evil. Because what is encoded in official Church doctrine is not all that far off.
Pretty revolutionary, if you ask me! <sarcasm><sarcasm><sarcasm>
In closing, there is a famous legend of St. Francis of Assisi, after whom Pope Francis took his name. The story goes that after visiting Pope Innocent III to gain official approval to start his own order of mendicant monks, Innocent some time later had a dream about St. Francis, which is depicted in the Giotto di Bondone in the painting above:
“In his dream, he saw the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral church of the Diocese of Rome — and it was falling over. But someone was standing in the breach: there was Francis, the young leader of the strange new group, and he was holding it up.”
Perhaps Pope Francis sees his own spiritual mission as a contemporary equivalent, to fulfill the commandment to “rebuild my church,” that St. Francis of Assisi supposedly received from God.
While I can’t question anyone else’s relationship to what they think is the divine, it does beg the question: is this an edifice which is even worth re-building?
We have ample evidence, after all, for how the Church actually treats those children who it teaches are a creative expression of God. What moral authority do they have left to deign to teach us about literally anything?
It might just be that an even more radically Christian response— or even simply a more humane and just one—would be to tear down all the corruption, rot, and hypocrisy, and start anew.
Now, that would be revolutionary!
If the Pope is worried about causing a schism in the Church by allowing LGBT to fully participate in the life of the Church, I say let it happen.
Let him be the one to reverse the image of St. Francis as the humble repairman, and instead disassemble the cracked edifice brick by brick, in order to better serve the Lord of life.
And let those who cling to exclusion and malice and call it religion be caught out and swept aside.