What a time to be a Catholic! Pope Francis, everyone’s favorite pope since Saint Pope John Paul II, starred in a documentary that premiered at the Vatican on Wednesday and has caused quite a stir amongst the millions of confirmed, according to Catholic News Agency. The film, Francesco, “chronicles the approach of Pope Francis to pressing social issues, and to pastoral ministry among those who live, in the words of the pontiff, ‘on the existential peripheries.’”
In one portion of the documentary which focuses on pastoral care for the LGBTQ+ community, Francis said, “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”—a line we’ve heard from papa before. But this time he took his love for God’s children a step further, adding, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” Despite this being the least helpful way to affect change in a church that is desperate for reform, it is a huge leap forward for Francis, who opposed same-sex marriage in Buenos Aires when he was the archbishop there in 2010.
As exciting as it is to be noticed by a far-off father, Francis’s use of the term “civil union” instead of marriage is an attempt to assuage the faithful while still conforming to the teachings of the Church. As Catholic News Agency explains, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2003 taught “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote, and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society.” Francis himself wrote in 2013 that legalizing same-sex marriage would be an “anthropological regression,” citing that children needed a “male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity,” reinforcing the idea that adoption should remain closed to same-sex couples.
The call for civil unions by the pope is a glass-half-empty situation. Progressive Catholics can rejoice that there is any water in the glass at all, but LGBTQ+ Catholics who are shunned and otherized by the Vatican are still being told by their faith leader that marriage is too precious, too holy for them.