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Defending Pope Francis from “Civil Unions”

by Tony M.

In an odd way, it would be delightful and refreshing if, at this juncture, it had become necessary to unqualifiedly defend Pope Francis from some unqualifiedly unwarranted attack by liberals / leftists / revolutionaries / heretics. Delightful because it would imply that the pope had said something that unqualifiedly upset them. What actually happened, though, requires a great deal of qualification.

Apparently a documentary is being released in which the pope gave the following comments:

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis said in the film, of his approach to pastoral care. After those remarks, and in comments likely to spark controversy among Catholics, Pope Francis weighed in directly on the issue of civil unions for same-sex couples. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope said. “I stood up for that.”

Before we get too immersed in making waves about these sentiments, we need to introduce a whole cargo ship of distinctions, clarifications, and interjectory notes.

(1) First, although this is in a documentary about the pope, it is not a straight up interview OF the pope. Not everything in the documentary is simply Pope Francis speaking before the camera for this documentary. They pulled from other, pre-existing material. And although the pope did give them footage specifically for this documentary, not everything they put in is from that footage – in particular, these comments at issue.

This is significant, because it appears that they did some careful editing / carving to generate the 18 seconds in which those comments are made. According to long-time Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong the phrases we have are taken out of context, something not at all uncommon from the media dealing with this pope (and prior popes).

He cites an article by Dr. Pedro Gabriel over at WherePeterIs that clarifies that the footage in question actually came from a 2019 interview to a Mexican journalist that had more fulsome comments:

The part where Pope Francis mentions that homosexuals have a right to a family appears after the 56-minute mark. Please note that the words, the background, the tone of voice, and the gestures of the Pope match the documentary videoclip, so it’s quite clear that this is the primary source.

Here are the words of the pope in the original context:

“Once I was asked a question on a flight—it made me angry afterwards, it made me angry because of how the media reported it—about the family integration of people with homosexual orientation, and I said: homosexual people have a right be a part of a family, people with homosexual orientation have a right to be in a family and the parents have the right to recognize this son as homosexual, this daughter as homosexual. Nobody should be thrown out or be miserable because of it.

Another thing—I said—when we see some sign in children that are growing, and then you send them… I should have said to a ‘professional’, but I said ‘psychiatrist’. I wanted to say a professional, because sometimes there are signs in adolescence or pre-adolescence where they don’t know if it is a homosexual tendency or if the thymus gland atrophied with time—I don’t know, a thousand things, no? So, a professional. The headline of the newspaper: ‘The Pope sends homosexuals to the psychiatrist’. It is not true! They asked me a question and I repeated again: ‘They are sons of God, they have a right to a family, and so forth’. Another thing is… and I explained: I was wrong in using that word, but wanted to say this: ‘When you notice something str’… “Ah, it’s strange…”. No, it’s not strange. It’s something out of the ordinary. In other words, they took a small word to nullify the context. There, what I said was: ‘they have a right to a family’. And that does not mean approving homosexual acts, not in the least.” [Emphasis in Pedro Gabriel's translation of the transcript of the interview.]

If that is all accurate, (and for this post I assume it is), then the pope’s comments have been taken out of context and twisted: sliced and diced.

(2) The second point made in defense is that this is NOT a “doctrinal” comment by the pope. It is an interview, not an encyclical or a papal bull or a dogmatic constitution. Dave Armstrong cites Mike Lewis from wherepeteris:

First, I want to be straightforward about the level of importance of these statements, with regard to doctrine and how they relate to Church teaching. Let’s be clear about this (whether you agree with them or not): the hoopla is over two sentences spoken by Pope Francis in an interview. They are not official magisterial teachings, nor do they represent official changes in doctrine or discipline.

So even if he was spouting error, it’s not like he was trying to do so doctrinally. His comments here don’t arise even to the level of what is considered the position of an “ordinary” magisterial teaching to which we owe religious assent, much less the higher forms of teaching to which we owe still more deep assent.

(3) It’s not like the pope was arguing for “gay marriage”: his comments didn’t even include a reference to “gay marriage”. His comments argue in favor of something much less society-rending than “gay marriage”. And according to Mike Lewis, civil unions for gays is something about which reasonable Catholics can harbor favorable thoughts:

Cardinal Bergoglio was not the first prominent archbishop to indicate tolerance for this type of openness to civil unions. In 1997, Archbishop William Levada penned a column in First Things defending what was dubbed the “San Francisco Solution.” As archbishop of San Francisco, Levada (who later went on to become the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), explained how he decided to respond to an ordinance in San Francisco allowing same-sex civil unions. As a result, employers were compelled to provide benefits to the same-sex partners of their employees, just as they would for a spouse.

As a “compromise,” Levada proposed that rather than providing benefits to someone on the contingency that they were either a spouse or same-sex partner, he would provide benefits to a second person in the household, regardless of relationship. . . .

He goes on to quote Cardinal Cordileone:

“In our bishops region’s audience with Pope Francis last January during our ad limina visit (the visit diocesan bishops make every five years to the Vatican), the topic of civil unions came up in conversation. The Holy Father clearly differentiated between a civil arrangement which accords mutual benefits to two people, and marriage. The former, he said, can in no way be equated to marriage, which remains unique.

“I would add that a civil union of this type (one which is not equated to marriage) should be as inclusive as possible, and not be restricted to two people of the same sex in a presumed sexual relationship. There is no reason, for example, why a brother and a sister, both of whom are unmarried and support each other, should not have access to these kinds of benefits. Marriage is unique because it is the only institution that connects children to their mothers and fathers, and therefore is presumed to be a sexual relationship. Indeed, the sexual relationship that marriage is presumed to involve is the only kind by which children are naturally made. The nature of marriage, the place of sex within a virtuous life, these great teachings of the Church come to us from God, are illuminated by reason, and do not change.”

(4) In addition, it is not even simply true to say that the pope was urging “civil unions” as such.

…the Holy Father uses the Spanish term “convivencia civil,” which can be either “civil union” or “civil coexistence.”

He could have meant laws that provide for some sort of civil “co-existence” that isn’t even what is generally included in, say, America, under the phrase “civil union”. Arguably, laws that protect gays from abuse and harm merely for being gay could fall under such a term.

So, given these four defenses, Dave argues that the Catholic right is going off the deep end attacking the pope over these comments.

While I sympathize with Dave’s object here, which is to defend the leader of the Church, Christ’s Vicar on Earth, I fear that these brave defenses are good as far as they go, but still inadequate. Gravely so.

About point (1), that the pope’s words were taken out of context: It is well known both to intelligent Catholics and to the Pope that the media will distort and twist the pope’s words when it suits them. Indeed, in the context of the interview of the pope that these were taken from, Francis himself is complaining that he was taken out of context. So, he knows about the problem of giving out comments that can be easily twisted. And yet Francis continues to give the media tons and tons of material to use that is obscure, confused, ambiguous, and easily twisted toward whatever end they have in mind. So: fool me once, shame on me… Francis should know about being more careful in his comments. He DOES know, he just refuses to use that knowledge by being more careful.

This may be a stylistic choice of his, but it IS a choice. He could refuse to give such interviews, and he could insist on using a much more careful style of communicating. This is what the 10 previous popes did: they were immensely more careful in their public communications than Francis is. They took pains over it, where Francis does not. They were cautious, where Francis is bold in speaking off-the-cuff. They made distinctions continually, where Francis not only doesn’t make them, he insists on avoiding them and even (in some cases) undermining them with seemingly deliberately confusing language. More than that, it is part of his style to say things that are exaggerated, inexact, askew, and so on. One of Francis’ favorite sayings is “hagan lio”, make a mess. Careful distinction is NOT his style, he likes being messy.

It is, therefore, not entirely fair to exclaim disgustedly over the media “taking him out of context” and making large mountains out of, well, slightly smaller mountains. I have been involved in the process of making government regulations, and I have learned the internal culture of that process, which is not “craft so that the rule can be understood” but rather “craft so that the rule cannot be MISunderstood. Such a sentiment seems to be completely foreign to the pope, he rather embraces an entirely opposing approach: make a mess. As a consequence, he cannot easily take cover behind “they didn’t understand me clearly.” They didn’t because of him, more than a little bit.

Let’s take just one point: his comment that

Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it

More likely than not, the pope’s primary thought was on family situations where a person with same-sex attraction (SSA) has been “kicked out” of his family – shunned and ostracized - for nothing more than being a person who suffers from SSA. However, there are three ways (at least) in which his comment suffers from ambiguity – needless ambiguity – which will be used to twist, spindle, fold and mutilate his thinking here. The first is that sometimes the SSA young adult quite vigorously insists on “acting out” their inclinations by homosexual liaisons. Parents have a total right to draw a line at voluntary behavior that gravely violates the family’s mores which instantiate fundamental moral norms, especially when it is unrepentant behavior. If a 19-year old child insists on being an active “gay”, the parents can rightly decline to continue to provide a roof over his head, and may even have a duty to so refuse if they still have other children at home. They may even have to dis-invite the child from attending family events if he insist on bringing his “partner” with him. The pope’s remarks didn’t leave much room for that, they practically shut the door on such a parental duty. (As a side-light: we now have the widespread phenomenon that parents who don’t ostentatiously and volubly approve their SSA child coming out of the closet by announcing a gay relationship, are castigated as being “unsupportive” and worse. The pope’s remark effectively throws these parents under the bus.)

Secondly, a vast area of the controversy (one now dead in the US but still going on elsewhere) is the so-called “right” of gays to form their own new “family” either by adopting children or getting them by surrogacy methods. The pope’s phrasing that they “have a right to a family” plays right into their hands. They will (understandably, if wrongly) use the second sentence in isolation and say “see, even the Pope says we have a right to obtain children and start a family.”

And where he says nobody “should be made miserable because of it”, the antecedent of “it” is ambiguous, drifting in the wind. Is it his same sex attractions that he should not be made miserable on account of? The problem is that there is room for four different causes of misery, two from within, and two from without: (i) the mere fact of having SSA itself; (ii) the misery brought on by disregarding fundamental moral norms of sexuality and acting on disordered inclination, (iii) the misery brought on by natural and normal social and legal penalties for acting out as gay, and (iv) some inordinate, badly conceived or applied social or legal penalties for acting out as gay. Only in the case of the 4th does it make sense for the pope to oppose such "being made miserable”, but gays will lump the first three in with the last to characterize ALL of their suffering as something the pope rejects – thereby making it our “duty” to make them happy, by approving their lifestyle, of course.

And all of these problems and confusions were so easily avoidable. For example, instead of saying “have a right to a family” the pope could have used a construction like “were born part of a family, and that relationship never ceases.” Instead of saying “nobody should be thrown out” he might have said it a hundred other ways, such as “a parent should love every child regardless of what kinds of disorder he suffers from.” Instead of “nobody should be made miserable”, Francis could have said something like “he is already made miserable in part by suffering from SSA, the family should not add to that unnecessarily.”

The pope opened himself up needlessly to being misinterpreted by his careless and ambiguous assertions. Did the 18-second clip take him out of context? Yes. Did it portray his position inaccurately? Yes. Is it 180 degrees opposite to what he actually holds? No, unfortunately it is not. I will make that clear below.

Point (2) is that his interview comments are not official, doctrinal teaching, much less attempting to overturn prior defined doctrine. This is another “true as far as it goes” but inadequate.

The Catholic Church does not teach only by defining doctrine. It teaches by a wealth of additional material that goes along-side of defined doctrines. The teachings of the Church occurs in a billion places every day, everything from a mother correcting her child by saying “no, we believe…”, to the nuns in schools teaching religion class, to the parish priest exhorting the congregation to be faithful, to the bishops giving talks at “theology on tap” sessions at a local bar, to the pope giving an informal introductory address to the visiting physicians guild. While none of these occur in an “official” context, they all participate in the Church’s role of “teacher”. The pope doesn’t get to avoid critique because his comments weren’t “official”. If his unofficial comments depart from Church teaching, they can (and should) be critiqued.

Also, the majority of “what the Church teaches” has not been made the direct subject of DEFINING statements. 99% of the content of the last 20 encyclicals do not provide “definitions” of specific doctrines, but are still official teaching and doctrinal positions of the Church. There is a hierarchy of how definitively the Church has taught its vastly many teachings, and only a small percentage of those taught “officially” have made it to the summit of being “defined”. The rest sit lower down on the mountain, but are still official. To a degree, virtually every single teaching that HAS been defined in dogmatic proclamations was, before the moment of the specific act of dogmatic definition, a teaching that had ALREADY BEEN taught officially in the Church. They had been taught authoritatively by generations of bishops and popes before the event of the dogmatic definition. The mere fact that a teaching has not yet been defined does not mean we are free to disagree with it or dispute it publicly, much less teach the opposite.

Furthermore, the pope and bishops continue to teach when they make semi-official comments, and when they make unofficial comments: a bishop is a teacher at some degree or other practically every time he speaks on faith or morals, not just in sermons and letters to his priests. They just “teach less definitively” when they so teach. It’s still teaching. Even the pope would agree that when he gives an interview, he is “teaching”. So, yes, it is “unofficial”. That means it is subject to a greater degree of critical analysis. Doesn’t mean he can spout error and have us ignore the difficulties. But it does mean that it is NOT true that "the sky is falling", Chicken-Little-wise, for consistency of Church doctrine.

So, did the pope say anything that was incompatible with prior Church teaching?

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (CDF), in 2003 put out its document Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons:

(Thanks to Fr. Z for this tip.) In it CDF makes it clear that certain norms are morally obligatory, and among them is that of not giving to unions of homosexuals a status that helps them act like they were married, even if we don’t give the relationship the name “marriage”.

6. To understand why it is necessary to oppose legal recognition of homosexual unions, ethical considerations of different orders need to be taken into consideration. From the order of right reason

The scope of the civil law is certainly more limited than that of the moral law,(11) but civil law cannot contradict right reason without losing its binding force on conscience.(12) Every humanly-created law is legitimate insofar as it is consistent with the natural moral law, recognized by right reason, and insofar as it respects the inalienable rights of every person.(13) Laws in favour of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason because they confer legal guarantees, analogous to those granted to marriage, to unions between persons of the same sex. Given the values at stake in this question, the State could not grant legal standing to such unions without failing in its duty to promote and defend marriage as an institution essential to the common good.

The problem isn’t found only in giving gays the whole body of rights and privileges that attach to the institution of marriage, it lies even in granting them status of any sort that approximates, conduces toward, or mimics that of marriage or of any _other_ morally lawful relationship. They cannot, for example, be accorded the same status as a grown brother and sister living together. The latter two can be assumed to live out a lifetime of mutual support without any tendency toward, or inclination toward, a gravely immoral sexual sin by their so living together. Two gays cannot. The brother and sister, while they may have no specific intention to depart from a shared living arrangement, have made no definite (socially binding) commitment to remain together, and may at any time depart from the prior arrangement if circumstances provide something better. The nature of any formal status, for two gays in a relationship, that merits ANY sort of recognition by the state, treats it as otherwise (as if there is some commitment to remain together; and in this it begins to mimic the character accorded to the institution of marriage. Marriage is, after all, a certain relationship in which two persons intend to live together and commit to it, i.e. a “union of the whole life”. (It has other required features as well, but it has this at a minimum.)

One fundamental problem is that two gays living together is always going to represent a situation of constant occasion of sin to them, and therefore their intending to formalize the status of living together is an intention to PERSIST in a near occasion of sin, when they have the freedom to arrange a living that does not have such a problem. It is, then an intention of sin, because INTENDING to persist in making yourself present to an occasion of sin when you freely could choose otherwise is, itself, a sin. And the state treating them as if they had made a commitment to be together by granting some status (even if they HAD made some such commitment), thereby indicates that their staying together is a worthy thing, when it is actually contrary to right reason.

It should not be forgotten that there is always “a danger that legislation which would make homosexuality a basis for entitlements could actually encourage a person with a homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality or even to seek a partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law”.

Here CDF quotes their earlier 1992 document, which itself cites to their 1986 document, which refers to their 1975 document Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics. (So they have been making the same point for a while now.) It is impossible that society inherently have an OBLIGATION to support them by any legal recognition of any “status” that hangs on their living together, for any such status at all supports their intention to sin.

CDF is clear that tolerating an evil is not the same thing as supporting it.

Where the government's policy is de facto tolerance and there is no explicit legal recognition of homosexual unions, it is necessary to distinguish carefully the various aspects of the problem. Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons. Therefore, discreet and prudent actions can be effective; these might involve: unmasking the way in which such tolerance might be exploited or used in the service of ideology; stating clearly the immoral nature of these unions; reminding the government of the need to contain the phenomenon within certain limits so as to safeguard public morality and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon. Those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.

What is most critical for my point here addressing (2) is this: CDF is not giving out a new teaching. They are merely re-stating what had already been taught.

The present Considerations do not contain new doctrinal elements; they seek rather to reiterate the essential points on this question and provide arguments drawn from reason…Since this question relates to the natural moral law, the arguments that follow are addressed not only to those who believe in Christ, but to all persons committed to promoting and defending the common good of society.

In effect, Dave Armstrong and Mike Lewis thus have successfully defended the Church, which is excellent and noble, but in doing so they have not equally defended this Pope’s utterance to the extent he really does support legal civil unions for gay people. But it’s OK to defend the Church without defending the pope’s unofficial teaching, especially if the road to defend the Church is by pointing out defects in the pope's unofficial teaching.

(3) But the pope wasn’t supporting “gay marriage”, right? Yes, that’s true. In fact nothing he said was directly in support of “gay marriage”, and he has in the past denied that gays can be married, repeatedly.

But that’s not the whole of the story. It is well known that agitating for civil unions was quite literally just a stepping stone intended on the pathway toward “gay marriage”. Now that the US is 5 years past the point of 5 Supreme Jerks deciding to foist “gay marriage” on us we have forgotten some of the details, but it was obvious back in the 00’s that civil union was NOT the end goal for them. They wanted full on civil approval of “gay marriage” with full-throated social approval on all sides, not some carnival side-show of a legal fiction.

And this should be well known to the pope. If he needed help remembering this, he had the examples of half the nations of the west. Legally recognized civil unions are, in effect, just the camel’s nose in the tent, and little better than a social near occasion of sin toward approving “gay marriage”. While supporting civil unions is not quite the EXACT same thing as approving “gay marriage”, it is, in effect, indirectly supporting “gay marriage”. And thus is bad.

(4A) But hold on a second: The pope did not use the term “civil unions”. The term he used was “convivencia civil”. According to one translator, this can be either civil unions or civil “co-existence”. It should – according to Mike Lewis – be translated as supporting that gays be treated properly under law, e.g. that they have all due civil rights.

First, remember my point above about using ambiguous phrasing? Secondly: well, it’s a nice theory, but it’s ONLY a theory. Opposed to it is one of Pope Francis’ own close advisors, Archbishop Fernandez:

By using this phrase, Torres said, Pope Francis is talking about some kind of legal protection, which the priest did not specify, but not a homosexual civil union.

But Fernández, Archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, said Wednesday that the pope’s term connotes a civil union as the term is commonly understood.

The archbishop posted on Facebook that before he became pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio “always recognized that, without calling it ‘marriage,’ in fact there are very close unions between people of the same sex, which do not in themselves imply sexual relations, but a very intense and stable alliance.”

“They know each other thoroughly, they share the same roof for many years, they take care of each other, they sacrifice for each other. Then it may happen that they prefer that in an extreme case or illness they do not consult their relatives, but that person who knows their intentions in depth. And for the same reason they prefer that it be that person who inherits all their assets, etc.”

“This can be contemplated in the law and is called ‘civil union’ [unión civil] or ‘law of civil coexistence’ [ley de convivencia civil], not marriage.”

“What the Pope has said on this subject is what he also maintained when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires,” Fernández added.

Since it is indeed known that he supported civil union laws in Argentina, this bolsters Fernandez’s assertion. Furthermore, I suspect that even in Spain or Mexico or Argenina, the phrase means something different than merely “making sure those suffering from SSA have in practice the same human rights that everyone else has.” My reason: “co-existence” isn’t really used to mean that. It is used to mean something like “they can operate their way, and we can operate our way.” This allows a tacit tolerance for “their way”, whatever it is. If it is intrinsically immoral, then such “co-existence” means tolerating evil. If you want to make sure X group is treated to the same protection of the laws everyone else has a right to, , and "X acts" are intrinsically disordered, you call it "toleration of evil", you don’t call it “co-existence with X group" because that gives the implication that doing X acts is morally neutral. Sioux and Shawnee tribes can "co-exist" because being Sioux or being Shawnee is morally neutral. We cannot "co-exist" with murderers (even if murderers have civil rights), because murder is not morally neutral.

Let’s take a minute to clarify the issues: It is true that all people, including those who do evil things like steal and murder and commit adultery, have certain human rights simply by reason of the fact that they are human beings. And because of such human rights, the Church has proclaimed that all people ought to be protected by civil rights stated in law, to defend their human rights. Among these are, for example, the right not to be violently assaulted, nor to be legally punished without a legal process (i.e. a fair trial). Since all persons have these rights, those who are subjects to SSA have them too. Laws should defend their civil rights, and should not retract such rights from a person merely on account of his suffering from SSA, or (even worse) on the mere suspicion of others that he has SSA. Laws that are written to withhold the protection universal human rights to those who have SSA are, therefore, bad laws.

But of course, in most countries the laws do not literally hang a determination of whether a person is to be accorded human rights on whether he has or does not have SSA. In most places where SSA people end up not being treated with due dignity and respect, this is partly because the law is NOT APPLIED properly, as it was written: those who enforce the law fail in their duty. The SSA person may be assaulted, for example, with no adequate penalty to the aggressors. This ends up meaning that it is a matter of law enforcement, not passing laws that PROVIDES TO those who have SSA new and distinct rights that do not belong to others.

Much more to the point, however, is that in vastly many situations in western nations where a person with SSA is made to suffer at the hands of others, it is at least in part due to the fact that he or she has ACTED upon that attraction in a way that is gravely disordered. Such actions are, naturally and rightly, repulsive to those with properly formed sexual attractions. Now, the responses to such behavior (i.e. acting upon SS attraction, not simply the STATE of having SSA), may come in one of two flavors: it may be social response, or it may be a law-enforcement response (if there are laws against such behavior). If social: it is right and normal (i.e. “according to due norms”) that homosexual behavior is repulsive, and hence earns a negative social response. So far from this negative reaction being wrong, it is bad if society doesn’t have such response mechanisms. (Admittedly, sometimes social responses to SSA are wrong-headed in nature or excessive in degree, but here we are talking about responses to behavior.) But such responses should be ONLY at the level of social penalties, i.e. not such as to amount to legal penalties. A social penalty might be, for example, the loss of friendships, as would occur if any friend chooses to behave wrongly repeatedly. If it were persistent, it might include the loss of a job because you have made co-workers unable to be around you by your regularly offensive behavior.

As to law-enforcement responses: good, wholesome, upright societies will also have certain laws against homosexual behavior (not against the condition of having SSA), because it is both perverse and damaging to the social order. The extent of the laws against might vary with circumstances, but on the whole there should be some. It is only in states wherein the degeneracy has already gained an advanced degree will it be too difficult to maintain some basic ordinances against homosexual acts, implying a state with toleration of evil. But the necessity of such tolerance is, itself, a declaration that such state is defective: good statesmen would then have it as a long range objective to recover social morality so that proper norms could again be made law. A state like this might have no laws against homosexual acts, but would not necessarily have civil union laws.

And even more to the point: some (many, now) of those with SSA not only visibly act on such attractions, they do so brazenly, not apologetically, not as a weakness, but as a right. They self-proclaim that their actions are as normal as heterosexual conjugal acts (which is false), and that their condition itself is a “normal” one. They associate the term “gay” with a positive affirmation that having SSA is no less “natural” and normal a condition than having heterosexual inclinations. This state of affairs is gravely detrimental to the social order. For example, it violates the norms CDF mentions in declaring

and, above all, to avoid exposing young people to erroneous ideas about sexuality and marriage that would deprive them of their necessary defences and contribute to the spread of the phenomenon

But granting civil unions for gays is both intended to push toward just this state of affairs, and also it naturally lends itself to that end as well. It is, therefore, just as naturally a defective legal mechanism for getting for SSA sufferers the right treatment from society and the law. It is bad law, and not just for some societies, or in some circumstances; it is always bad law.

It is funny (well, it would be funny, if it weren’t so sad) that the pope made a big deal out of trying to “correct” the impression that he was advocating sending a youth to a psychiatrist if he exhibits SSA, whereas what he meant was “to a professional”, because he meant the wider sphere of medical doctors to address things like hormone imbalances, etc. Funny because Francis seems to be unaware of the encroaching pervasiveness of the sink-hole that is gender insanity: to a society that sees nothing wrong with chemical mutilation of teens with hormones, and which forbids psychiatrists (and psychologists and therapists) from treating SSA as a disorder, how long can it go before the very definitions of “hormone imbalance” become untenable as medical categories? His (rare) effort at making a careful distinction turns out to be not very helpful after all. And sad, because his backing off of the idea of sending kids with SSA for (psychiatric) help, was a bad choice anyway, given that he had the opportunity to attack the vicious nonsense of depriving suffering individuals of such assistance.

Let’s look more closely at the comments by Cardinal Cordileone:

“I would add that a civil union of this type (one which is not equated to marriage) should be as inclusive as possible, and not be restricted to two people of the same sex in a presumed sexual relationship. There is no reason, for example, why a brother and a sister, both of whom are unmarried and support each other, should not have access to these kinds of benefits.

Typically, “these benefits” include the following: tax treatment as a unified couple, inheritances, health insurance, pension benefits, and the right to visit in hospitals and nursing homes. I put it to you that for most of these (if not all) the basic reasons the benefits exist and they were tied to marital status has specifically to do with the marital relationship as such and should not commonly be extended by law to additional classes of persons – not even to such things as a brother and sister living together.

Tax: in tax law, the married couple is rightly treated as a single joined (quasi) “person” because in their living together they have co-mingled their assets for the purpose of raising children. (They do not, for example, say that “OK, you will pay all expenses for the first child, and I will pay all the expenses for the second”.) At the same time, they have mutually arranged their affairs so that one spouse takes much or most of the brunt of the hour-by-hour duties of child-rearing, and cannot therefore have the same prospects to earn as much. These two factors imply that they should have a co-mingled tax bill (as a business corporation has one tax bill), not separate ones. A brother and sister living together, like two friends living together, is not _presumed_ to have made any commitment to remain together permanently nor co-mingled their entire body of assets even if they share out current living expenses. (The once-unusual cases where a married couple do NOT effectively co-mingle their assets should not be taken as a reason to grant the status to other pairs or groups, they are rather reasons we could reasonably deny such special tax treatment to those married couples by retracting the presumption under which we would otherwise grant them a favorable treatment that they don’t actually warrant.)

Inheritance: A married couple who have co-mingled their wealth so that it belongs to them as a unit and is used as a unit, automatically needs to have the unitary nature of their ownership recognized before the law. This co-mingling is normative because of the normal intent to raise children. The standard inheritance presumption would have no essential bearing if the couple had known from the beginning of their marriage that they never would have children. Hence the normally fecund, conjugal, marital relationship is part of the backdrop to normal inheritance law (and is, again, applied to all marriages by way of presumption). In any case, we are talking here of default inheritance rules: in nearly all places, a person may provide for the exact same outcome by making a will. (The same, by the way, goes for authority that can be delegated by a medical power-of-attorney or medical directive.) Thus there is no clear need for a change in laws to accommodate other sorts of relationships such as a brother and sister. Making a will is (at least in theory) much less involved and momentous an affair than formalizing a legal status like marriage (or civil union).

Health insurance and pension benefits: It is because a husband and wife are as a family socially “one flesh” and are ordered to procreation that employers treat health benefits as accruing to the whole family of the worker. This has absolutely no bearing on other situations, such as two bachelors who happen to live together to share out household expenses and make the rent bearable. For pensions it is even more so: the pension rights of the spouse of an employee have as their origin the recognition that the spouses together are a single unit of society for the raising of children, and the non-employed spouse normally will have been contributing to the combined unit through raising the children rather than pulling in a significant income. This is so far from having any application to the two bachelors case that it is laughable to even suggest it should be applied to them. (For the rare cases – which make bad law – like a brother taking care of his unmarried invalid sister for whom he has become the legal guardian, some pension plans allow for him to create a joint-and-survivor pension benefit for the sister (who has an insurable interest in him) by giving up a proportionate share of his benefit to work out as an actuarially equivalent total benefit similar to the cut in benefit typically used to generate the spousal survivor benefit: no change in law required.) It would be very bad law indeed to automatically grant health insurance benefits and pension benefits to two friends who simply decide to live together.

Visiting rights at the hospital: Is it just me, or is citing this an example of scraping the bottom of the barrel? Is this REALLY important enough to go down to city hall to register for civil union status? Do people really do that? Allow me to doubt it: I guess that it is just thrown in there for its emotional appeal: would you really have the nurse turn a 15-years partner away “merely” because they have no officially approved category? Be that as it may, it is another example of overkill in terms of law-making: there are a thousand other ways to achieve much the same effect without resorting to ill-made laws that have 10,000 other bad effects. For all non-emergency hospital stays, simply put a place on the admission form for 2 or 3 people you want to have visiting rights. You write down whomever you want. For emergencies where the patient is unconscious (surely the vast minority of all such stays), you can have your license / ID card list 2 people you want to have visiting rights: they already have a space for “organ donor” (don’t get me started on that), so it’s not like the state can’t figure out how to DO such things. When a couple gets married, frequently one of them has to get a new license anyway because of their name-change, so this is not a big deal. (We won’t even mention the fact that by and large, a gay partner often could (and probably did) just say “I am immediate family” to the nurses anyway: who is to prove otherwise?)

So, when you are starting from zero and deciding whether a legal civil union category is a good idea, these proposed goods to be achieved by a general civil union law aren’t viable: there IS NOT a good reason to have a “civil union” law that provides to indiscriminately large classes of non-married folk a clump of conglomerate “rights” (benefits that get turned into "rights") that in reality ought to belong to married folk and ought not (by and large) belong to non-married folk, and certainly not to whole swathes of variously situated non-married folk. There MIGHT be valid reasons to parcel out one of the benefits usually accorded to married couples, to some small subsection of other pairs, on a piecemeal and narrow basis. Each such reason (and benefit) can well be handled distinctly, rather than generated en masse by granting a slew of rights that hadn’t ought to be extended willy nilly to many other pair arrangements. It’s just sloppy logic to assume a broad-cast net is the “right” way to do it. And most of the rights mentioned really ought to belong to married folk for particular reasons that do not readily extend to others. The fact that it might be convenient for some certain types of groups (it needn’t be groups of exactly 2 persons, you know) to have some certain social benefit DOES NOT imply that it is good for law to do so, much less that it be done through a blunt-instrument method like “civil unions”.

Archbishop Levada of San Francisco was equally wrong. His actions in 1997 in support of civil unions was, probably, not a little of the goad which induced CDF to issue its 2003 document. Which gives us a pretty good reason to take his comments with a huge grain of doubt.

(4B) But wait a minute: suppose for the sake of the argument that Francis didn’t mean civil unions as such, but meant something much less definitive in civil law that did not accord to homosexuals “marriage-like” rights, but a status granting lesser things? After all, the term “convivencia civil” can mean that, even if there is reason to suppose Francis meant civil unions. Wouldn’t it be OK for the pope and bishops and people in the Church to back that?

No, not really. Let me refer back to what was quoted above from CDF:

6. To understand why it is necessary to oppose legal recognition of homosexual unions,

The obligation here is stated to be “necessary”, not merely a “counsel” that one may freely choose not to enter into (like not choosing to enter the religious life), nor a prudential one that adjusts to circumstances. And the CDF is speaking broadly, to the whole world, about “homosexual unions”, not specifically about “civil unions” as they have been prescribed in certain countries like America. The problems attach to ANY status accorded to a supposed union of two people formed in order to pursue sexual activity not as a married man and woman. Even if they were two heterosexuals, a man and a woman, who want to have their sexual relationship recognized but don’t want the baggage of “marriage” attached. The problem is that ALL sexual acts outside of marriage are gravely immoral, and it is wrong to support such, (even indirectly). A law that is passed in order to formalize such relationships is DIRECTLY in support, not indirectly. And even if it were indirect, we could not claim the defense of the principle of double effect for this “cooperation with evil”, because (a) under that principle, the only cooperation that is morally permissible is remote material cooperation, (which is not what such laws provide), and (b) licit cooperation depends on there being a good result at least as great as the detriments that can be anticipated. And yet the detriments anticipated from granting gays an officially recognized homosexual union status of ANY sort are catastrophic to marriage, in the long run – as the CDF indicated.

Ultimately, we can look at the problem like this: there is no good social reason to grant an explicit “status” with legal benefits of any sort to, say, 2 bachelors who share an apartment together for reasons of economy. Going beyond such a pair by adding in what 2 gay men have beyond the mere fact that they are two bachelors who share household expenses, if we think to grant any kind of status to 2 gay guys who live together on account of some special emotional attraction they have formed which entails an inclination toward a disordered act, then granting such status is formal cooperation with evil. It SUPPORTS the inclination to a disordered act. And it does not do so in an incidental way on the way toward some unrelated good. It is not remote material cooperation. When Fernandez says

They know each other thoroughly, they share the same roof for many years, they take care of each other, they sacrifice for each other. Then it may happen that they prefer that in an extreme case or illness they do not consult their relatives, but that person who knows their intentions in depth. And for the same reason they prefer that it be that person who inherits all their assets, etc.

he recounts downstream effects which are, themselves, dependent on the disordered relationship formed from the beginning. Hence supporting that relationship by supporting its frequent downstream effects that relate specifically to their disordered inclination is, again supporting disordered inclinations and acts. It is not supporting something that is completely unrelated to the disordered nature of the relationship itself. However much it might be true that a guy's homosexual partner knows his mind better, say, in the event of hospital care, this normally comes about through that very (partial, disordered) “partnership of the whole life” that is only properly found in marriage, and one cannot support the homosexual partners – qua homosexual pair – getting such rights without supporting the formation of such a disordered relationship to begin with.

When Fernandez (or any other Catholic) suggests that the relationship, though it harbors immoral acts, also harbors such upright features as mutual care, sharing, and love, this too is a mistaken view. As St. Thomas makes clear in his treatment of the virtues, an act that is good in its species (from the object of the act) but bad either in its intended end, or in its circumstance, is actually an evil in its concrete act. The so-called “friendship” of two gays living together is not built on acts of love, it is built on two people damaging themselves and each other morally, and the emotional attachment they form is not “love” but something else, because we do not harm a person out of love for them. Love would imply recognizing “I have been hurting this person, and I need to leave in order to do him any good at all.” The sharing is real, but it does not spring from love properly understood, because love wills the good of the other, and their wills are fixed in damaging each other. Nor is it merely “love, but a lesser imperfect love which they need to perfect”. We would not say a sadistic rapist murderer has love for his victims, he just needs to “perfect” his love for the victim by “elevating” it. Nor would we say of a heterosexual couple who are living together and fornicating that their acts of affection, sharing, and "selfless giving" are "morally good but imperfect and just need to be adjusted". No, the problem goes all the way right down to the root, and cannot be repaired by tinkering and adjusting. Their acts of affection are disordered because they stem from an essentially disordered intention, which vitiates them. What is required is a RADICAL re-configuration of their loves, toward God and below Him toward God-given human natural goods in their proper hierarchy.

Laws in favour of homosexual unions are contrary to right reason because they confer legal guarantees, analogous to those granted to marriage, to unions between persons of the same sex. Given the values at stake in this question, the State could not grant legal standing to such unions without failing in its duty to promote and defend marriage as an institution essential to the common good. [my emphasis]

There is no way to grant any legal “status” to a pair of people who both suffer from SSA, a status expressly based on their wanting and choosing to live together in their condition and on account of their inclination, that does not provide support for their intended immoral behavior. And that support would be cooperation with evil. To the extent that Francis (and Levada) have supported the initiation of civil union law or even lesser official categories, they ignored what the Church recalled to mind in the CDF documents as Church teaching. If, instead, Francis meant to propose that in places where "gay marriage" is already a legal fact, civil unions would be preferable because they are less destructive of society, this would indeed be compatible with Catholic teaching - but then he muffed phrasing it so we would be able to extract this meaning clearly from what he said.

Thank goodness that this documentary, and the interview it draws from, is not a more “official” form of teaching than the CDF teaching, and can be considered in light of what the CDF says in official teaching.

Comments (11)

Thanks for this careful analysis, Tony. It's a shame that some feel that they have to "Fransplain" that this or that wasn't really what the pope was saying; it really twists their brains. Your own approach as a Catholic is far better--saying that what he said was severely wrong-headed and saying thank goodness that it isn't a more official teaching. A Facebook "friend" made the wry comment that conservative Protestants need to develop a line of sympathy cards to send to their conservative Catholic friends when Pope Francis says something like this. I see his point.

Heh, "Fransplaining". I can think of some things more useful to do than that with his interviews. For one thing, we've got enough to do just to batten down the hatches after his actually official stuff, like encyclicals.

I don't really tune in to the Vatican newspaper or the pope's spokesmen, but my sense is that after spending 3 or 4 years spent explaining away all the gaffs he made in talking to media, now they no longer bother. It's too much work, and he apparently doesn't actually appreciate it when his media handlers put words in his mouth to "clarify" what he "really meant". Well, if they aren't going to bother fixing it, why should I?

I had to laugh at one news item that came out: apparently Francis issued a new decree that changes how a new religious order can be formed. It was (up to now) OK for a bishop to approve a new "institute" to start, and after it got going, seek approval for the order in Rome if they wanted to expand. Now, a Vatican dicastery has to approve it first. So now we know what Francis meant by "collegiality" and "accompaniment" and "decentralization": apparently, it means that Francis will "walk with" (all over) the bishop whether he wants it or not, and the bishop can darn well go along with it or not get anything. I am going to guess that Francis doesn't even see the irony, but I could be wrong about that.

Not Catholic - Orthodox, rather - and not trying to dunk on Catholics, especially the orthodox Catholics groaning under the yoke of this Papacy, but Francis' Pontificate has become particularly Orwellian, in the 'slavery is freedom' sense. It is quite astonishing and disconcerting.

~~It's a shame that some feel that they have to "Fransplain" that this or that wasn't really what the pope was saying~~

I'm neither a Trump guy nor a Catholic, but I find it interesting that it's my loudest "Never-Trump" Catholic friends who are also far and away the biggest "Fransplainers." Although none is either politically or theological liberal in the usual sense, they are very much what I would call First-Thingsish. I find the whole thing rather odd: they go out of their way to trash Trump at every opportunity for perceived offenses small and large, whilst going through all sorts of contortions to do the exact opposite re: Francis.

Can someone explain? LOL

NM, I don't have a definite explanation, but I think I have a clue: There is a group of Catholics who learned from their childhood a very high degree of devotion and loyalty to the papacy, connected intimately to the doctrine of infallibility but not limited to a respect for the pope's capacity to teach infallibly, more like a monarchy's subject's devotion to the king. So, those for whom ultramonanism is at least a nearby temptation, if not an actual condition.

The existence of such Catholics is, probably, the natural result of a long line of exceedingly good popes, perhaps as far back as Leo XII or Gregory XVI in the early 1800's, up to John Paul II and Benedict XV, popes who were exceedingly bright lights in the ranks of who led the Church. So they get used to the fact that "the pope is a really great teacher" and accept it as a matter of course.

To this crowd, while they (usually) would not completely forget that the pope can be wrong and can talk nonsense when not teaching ex cathedra, they tend to view it as so unlikely, so distant a prospect, that suggesting that a given pope is out to lunch on a whole range of topics that he is generally wrong on them would be to go too far, in their eyes. Hence, everything the pope says almost has to be right, and you have to twist yourself into knots making sense of it or you aren't doing justice to the pope's august office.

If nothing else, I think Francis is reminding us of something the Church knew from earlier days: it is possible to get a real stinker in the office, too. Or to get someone in between, who is good in some ways and not so good in others.

Tony, that explains part of it but not the combo with the reflexive Trump bashing. (I add that I, too, am no Trump fan--far from it.) I think that combo, noted by Nice Marmot, is explained by sheer tribalism. These folks move in certain groups. Those groups are supposed to be somewhat enlightened and genteel. They commend and affirm one another in certain sets of attitudes and beliefs, and those (these days) get set extremely swiftly into *groupings* of beliefs. Their tribe decides quickly, in a corporate sense of "decides," who and what are bad and good things to think. And in that sociological moment (partly as a matter of the chances and changes of this mortal life), Trump is "the worst" and Francis is "good and misunderstood." In some ways it's reactionary. If they think that the "ultra-conservatives" think something, then they will react against it.

Now, to be fair (if this is being fair?), Dave Armstrong doesn't quite meet that profile. He is part of a different grouping that is both pro-Trump and pro-Fransplaining. But the "First Thingish" folks Nice Marmot talks about, the way their "belief groupings" have fallen out in their sub-tribe is what Nice Marmot describes.

And I would make an inductive prediction that they are mostly ardently pro-lockdown as well. And there's a *really* strong example of pure sociological chance at work, because that one could have *very easily* gone a different way, and we'd all be hearing about how Jesus touched the lepers and how evil hyper-conservatives are selfishly worried about physical safety and think only of the things of this world and the life of the body. It's probably at least related to the anti-Trump bias. If Trump is anti-lockdown, this tribe is pro-lockdown.

By the way, does anyone remember the AIDS epidemic and what the left's position was? I do: If you think that homosexuals should avoid risky sexual behavior in order to avoid catching a deadly STD, then you're a horrible, mean, victim-blaming bigot. And also, the deaths are all to be blamed not on the behavior of the people involved but rather on the Right, because if we cared enough we'd allocate so much money to research that we'd find a cure faster, faster, faster, and the right-controlled government didn't care enough about gays to find a cure that fast. (Because all it takes to find a cure for things is enough good will and money, right?) Meanwhile, don't you dare mention risky behavior.

If one tries to make a worldview out of that and the current reaction to the pandemic, one gets the following conclusion: The right to engage in risky sexual behaviors, including acts of sodomy, is sacred and must be treated as inalienable even if it results in the deaths of those so engaging. On the other hand, the right (or even responsibility) to hug Grandma *or* sing *or* gather in church *or* have a Christmas meal with more than ten people including people outside of your household *or* do sports *or* get within less than six feet of your friends *or* a whole bunch of other things that were part of normal, healthy life up to about ten minutes ago is *totally* negotiable, and you're a bad person who is risking killing a bunch of people if you do these things, especially if you do them without a mask, and if you urge others to do them. And no, this isn't victim blaming, why do you ask? Got it.

Sorry, that's probably OT. I was "inspired" by my own thoughts in the previous comment about the randomness of ideological positions and their associations with one another, which in a very indirect way is relevant to Nice Marmot's question about Fransplainers and their other positions.

Much of this is absolutely about tribal groupings and allegiances, and it is reactive much more than it is affirmative: it is less about - and seldom at all about, really - the positive claim that we, whatever group, believe X, and more about aversion, not even to the opposed position per se, but to the *people* who hold that position, who, as the inverse image of the group, have negative evaluations projected upon them. In other words, this is the pathos of class/cultural difference. In the case of the lockdowners, fervent support was a function of adherence to the Cult of Science so prevalent among liberals, but not exclusively liberals, where science is not a body of practices, ever incomplete and provisional, but a Body of Absolute Knowledge delivered by hierophants whose credentials entitle them to the submission of faith. What of the actual uncertainties in actually-existing science, such as those surrounding many aspects of the covid crisis? They are either flatly denied, or the work dissenting from the establishment narrative is dismissed as the product of political motivations, conspiracy theories, or what have you; ie., as heresy. There is no sound epistemic motivation in this exercise, only an aversion to the cultural and aesthetic signifiers of the people being dismissed as science-deniers and heretics, like comfortable PMCs whose livelihoods are in no way affected by lockdowns sneering at small-businessmen who could lose absolutely everything under lockdowns.

Interestingly, with regard to the sexuality analogy, there have been some lunatic liberals attempting to recommend changes to sexual practices, to render them covid-safe: wear masks, use these positions but not those, etc. But the deeper problem here is that sexual conduct is voluntary, from which it follows that any STD thus contracted is also a function of behaviors voluntarily engaged in; whereas the alleged transmission of covid in ordinary circumstances is not voluntary, at least not in the same sense: these are a) the ordinary behaviors of sane human society, and b) while the behaviors may be voluntary in the sense that one can eschew normal human contact, this is injurious to the individual and to society, and c) any respiratory disease transmission in those circumstances is a product of chance - you do not, and never will, have the degree of control over transmission of respiratory disease that you will have in the case of STDs. In the case of the latter, all you have to do is no engage in the risky behavior, and your risk plummets to zero. In the case of respiratory disease, not so: even countries with fascistic lockdowns, like Peru, have terrible covid stats. Ergo, the position in question is a normalization of the pathological, and the pathologization of normal life - which sounds like liberalism.

like comfortable PMCs whose livelihoods are in no way affected by lockdowns sneering at small-businessmen who could lose absolutely everything under lockdowns.

Or like low-wage earners living hand-to-mouth for a business that can be shut down - if they don't work, they don't eat. You can't tell these people to wait out a few months, or even a few weeks, that would amount to a death sentence.

Much of this is absolutely about tribal groupings and allegiances, and it is reactive much more than it is affirmative:

OK, that actually fits with what I have been seeing, which is that an awful lot of people are emoting rather than thinking. They simply react to stimulus with an emotive response and run with it, I guess.

At the risk of continuing the tangent, something in Lydia's comment strikes me:

On the other hand, the right (or even responsibility) to hug Grandma *or* sing *or* gather in church *or* have a Christmas meal with more than ten people including people outside of your household *or* do sports *or* get within less than six feet of your friends *or* a whole bunch of other things that were part of normal, healthy life up to about ten minutes ago is *totally* negotiable

These goods that lockdowns take away are not, shall we say, equally distributed across the political spectrum. There's a lot more family breakdown on the left: how many of them were even looking forward to Christmas with the extended family? How many of them were going to be alone anyway--or if not alone, then in the kind of company that would only aggravate their loneliness? How many of them consider it a plus that they don't have to take the kids to Grandma anymore--if they had any to take?

For that matter, how many of them were already doing most of their interactions with their friends through a screen?

Now I obviously don't mean to say this was a conscious factor in anyone's decision to support a lockdown--the reasons they give, if wrong, adequately explain their support. But not having (or, on some level, even wanting) these social goods can make it hard to take seriously the complaints of "those people" who are losing them.

I think you see a similar thing on the macro level with the whole question of freedom of religion. The woke left is by-and-large much less religious than the public at large, which makes it difficult for them to relate to the latter's understanding of religious freedom. I've noted that every time I discuss religious freedom with a liberal or progressive, any pushback always comes from those who are themselves irreligious. Since they don't value religion itself, they are unable to see the value that others find there. Therefore the COVID restrictions on church attendance aren't going to concern them much, as to them it's no different than going to the mall or to a restaurant.

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