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Archives Pope’s comments on same sex unions clarified

November 11, 2020

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, recently forwarded to all bishops a memorandum explaining the remarks of Pope Francis on same sex unions contained in a documentary film entitled Francesco. Archbishop Pierre was acting on behalf of Pope Francis, who directed the explanation be offered in order to permit an adequate understanding of his words, which were misrepresented in the documentary and have raised various concerns.

Over one year ago, in the course of an interview, Pope Francis responded to two distinct questions, at different moments. The documentary was edited afterward and the two distinct answers were published as a single response without necessary explanation or context. It is this editing that is causing confusion among the faithful.

The Pope’s first statement arose in a discussion about the need for families to treat a son or daughter with a homosexual orientation with respect and dignity. In this context, Pope Francis said, “Homosexual persons have the right to have a family. They are children of God, they have a right to a family. Nobody should throw them out of the family or make life impossible for them.”

Pope Francis’ response reflects sentiments expressed in the Apostolic Exhortation concerning love in the family (Amoris laetitia) (2016): “During the synod, we discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”

The Holy Father made the second statement in response to a discussion about a local law in Argentina regarding marriage for same-sex couples. At that time, Pope Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires and was opposed to the legislation. In this respect, Pope Francis affirmed that “it is incongruent to talk about same-sex marriage,” adding in that precise context, that when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he had spoken about the need for these persons to have legal protections for such things as healthcare. He said, “What we have to have is a law for civil coexistence. They have the right to legal protections. I defended that right.”

This is consistent with other statements by Pope Francis. During a 2014 interview, the Holy Father expressed clearly that “[m]arriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions in order to regularize economic matters between persons, such as assuring heath care, for example. This relates to various forms of cohabitation agreements, which I would not be able to list. The different situations must be examined and evaluated, according to their circumstances.”

Archbishop Pierre expressed the hope that this information would clarify that the Holy Father was responding to distinct situations when formulating the responses contained in the documentary, but that the editors of the documentary edited the statements and published them as a single statement. Pope Francis was addressing a particular secular statute in one instance, and how to respond lovingly to family members who experience same-sex attraction in the other. The Pope was not changing the doctrine of the Church, which has been reiterated on numerous occasions over the years by Pope Francis.

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