I feel that before I get started, I must first preface this article with the following statement. I believe that Pope Francis is the validly elected Pope. As such, I love this man and I pray for him daily. My prayers for him have become more intense during the past several years because of things such as the Pachamama scandal at the Synod on the Amazon, his attempt to change Church teaching regarding capital punishment, his constant ambiguity on moral issues, and then, on October 21, 2020, word came out that he has endorsed same-sex civil unions.
I keep reminding myself that Pope Francis is a human being. Under that white habit, he is Jorge Mario Bergolio. As a human being, he is entitled to his own opinions. However, as Pope, he must ensure that his public utterances and writings conform to the teaching of the Church.
In his first Mass as Supreme Pontiff, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “The Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to His Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism.” Benedict was right. When the Pope speaks, people listen. He has a duty to speak ONLY in line with Church teaching. The Pope should not speak “off-the-cuff” with regard to issues of faith and morals.
The Pope has always been the supreme teacher of the faith. However, since the First Vatican Council dogmatically pronounced the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, Catholics have put a lot of extra stock in what the Pope says. The doctrine of Papal Infallibility, as defined in Pastor Aeternus - The First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church - states, “the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is, when in discharge of the office of pastor and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his Apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine regarding faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church is, by the divine assistance promised to him in Blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed that his Church should be endowed in defining doctrine regarding faith or morals; and that, therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, irreformable.”
In other words, he must be speaking in an official capacity as the supreme teacher of the faith. Since the First Vatican Council, Papal Infallibility has only been exercised once - in 1950, when Pope Pius XII defined the Assumption of Mary as an article of faith. Even then, he did not change Church teaching, he simply dogmatically pronounced something which had always been believed by the faithful.
I bring up the doctrine of Papal Infallibility because it is of great importance that we distinguish the difference between a dogmatic pronouncement, and an opinion. Pope Francis has a tendency to voice his opinion more than he voices traditional Church teaching. Even in his Encyclical Letters, instead of quoting Scripture or the great saints of our Church, he quotes himself - a lot. I am not saying he never quotes Scripture or the saints, but in his latest Encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, he quoted himself more frequently than he quoted any other source.
In the latest Pope Francis “bombshell,” in the documentary titled Francesco, which debuted in Rome on Wednesday October 21, he says, “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 made miserable because of it.” First and foremost, YES, homosexuals are children of God and they do deserve to be part of a family. As human beings, they should not be “thrown out” and their human dignity ought to be respected at all times.
Pope Francis went on to say, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” This is where Pope Francis is wrong. In 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document titled “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons,” in which it states, “Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and the good of society itself.”
A civil union, whether between two people of the same sex or a man and a woman is NOT a marriage and cannot be treated as such by the Church. Any relationship in which a couple participates in “marital activity” but is not married is objectively disordered and cannot be accepted or supported by the Church. On Wednesday October 21, Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence said, “The Holy Father’s apparent support for recognition of civil unions for same-sex couples needs to be clarified. 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. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and must have their personal human rights and civil rights recognized and protected by law. However, the legalization of their civil unions, which seek to simulate holy matrimony, is not admissible.”
As I said at the beginning of this article, I love Pope Francis, and I pray for him every day. I ask anyone who reads this article to do the same. People listen to the Pope. When he says confusing things, people get confused. Pray that Pope Francis will one day soon understand and appreciate the level of confusion he is creating. Pray that Pope Francis will one day soon clarify all of his confusing and ambiguous statements with clear proclamations that are in line with Church teaching. Pope Francis (or any Pope) does not have the authority to change Church teaching. The Pope is tasked with safeguarding the doctrines of the Church, not changing them.