Pope Francis has surprised and shocked many with his statement backing same-sex unions. Alan Austin assesses its significance.
THIS IS NEWS. Important news. Global leader of the Roman Catholic Church Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known to his faithful as Pope Francis, has just overturned one of the heaviest tables in the temple of human bigotry. Despite generally subdued coverage, this could eventually change the world as much as anything this year. And in 2020, that is a big call.
Why this matters
The Catholic Church is highly influential in many countries where laws punish same-sex activity and where men, women and children with same-sex orientation are routinely persecuted and killed.
Same-sex activity is still criminalised in 71 countries. These include Burundi (62.1% Catholic), Dominica (58.1%), Grenada (44.6%) and Lesotho (45.7%).
Even in advanced democracies where gay couples are physically safe, bigotry impacts their lives. Catholic institutions in Australia, the USA and other developed secular democracies still sack teachers, health workers and others for being in same-sex relationships, even when those individuals are committed Catholics and eminently qualified in every other way.
Imagine if these evils disappeared.
Long and firm tradition
In a world where religious organisations are steadily shifting on same-sex unions, the Catholic Church has appeared immovable. Catholic bishops have led opposition to marriage reform in Britain, the Philippines, the USA, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.
This is why the latest pronouncement is a shock — to gay couples and their supporters and to outraged traditionalists alike.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. We have to create a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”
This is not the first time Bergoglio has suggested this as a Bishop, nor the first hint he has offered while Pope. But it is the first direct declaration while in the top job.
Roman Catholics still regard same-sex acts as wrong and homosexual attraction as “disordered”.
This is in contrast to many Christian denominations and other faith groups which now accept same-sex unions as equivalent to opposite-sex relationships.
Reactions of relief and excitement
“It makes me very happy that a new door is opening in the church for people who still don’t have a place in it.”
“It is no overstatement to say that with this statement not only has the pope protected LGBTQ couples and families, but he also will save many LGBTQ lives.”
‘The Pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the Church about same-sex unions. The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.’
‘Such declarations generate great bewilderment and cause confusion and error among Catholic faithful.’
The concept of family
A clue to the intellectual journey which led to Bergoglio’s declaration may be in his references – twice – to family: “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family” and, “You can’t kick someone out of a family”.
This pope sees people not primarily as individuals, but members of a family needing to welcomed, respected and protected by that family. They, in turn, contribute to its enrichment.
This understanding was articulated at length in his encyclical letter titled ‘Fratelli Tutti’ (‘All Brothers’) released earlier this month.
This reinforced his call for all humankind – regardless of nationality, status or faith – to see ourselves as brothers and sisters first and foremost.
This is the way, he urged, to avoid the depredations of those who would harm us, including political manipulators and corporate interests:
‘We need to think of ourselves more and more as a single family dwelling in a common home. Such care does not interest those economic powers that demand quick profits.’
Possible ways forward
In coming months, we shall see whether the Church proceeds to revise its official teaching and praxis or get Bergoglio to adhere to official doctrine. There will be great pressure in both directions.
So this latest declaration certainly does not end the matter. This Pope will not be with us forever and his successor could reverse his reforms. ‘God always corrects one pope by giving the world another’ is a well-rehearsed Catholic proverb.
Your elders will dream dreams
Visionary observers of Catholic affairs – both inside and outside the institution – may now ponder what other once-sacred precepts could also be challenged by this pontiff. If homosexuality can be reconsidered, what next?
Doctrines reformists may wish to see revisited include gay marriage, the authority of the clergy, the belief that Roman Catholicism is the one true Christian denomination and that the Christian faith is supreme. Plus, women priests.
Don’t laugh. The pope’s encyclical letter actually says that:
‘...the organisation of societies worldwide is still far from reflecting clearly that women possess the same dignity and identical rights as men.’
Bergoglio’s letter touches on all these areas of contention. Thus, his comments on same-sex unions serve to strengthen hopes for reform well beyond this one issue.
Alan Austin’s defamation matter is nearly over. You can read an update HERE and help out by contributing to the crowd-funding campaign HERE. Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @AlanAustin001.
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.