Realism, the Pope, and the case for civil unions

By Phil Lawler ( ) | Oct 28, 2020

Writing about the Pope’s much-remarked comments about remarks on civil unions Ryan Anderson and Robert George observe that “there is a plausible interpretation of Pope Francis’s comments under which they are consistent with historic Catholic teaching and moral reality.”

That’s true. It is possible to square what the Pope said with the Catholic tradition. But it isn’t easy—particularly when the Pope and the Vatican let the widespread misinterpretation of the remarks (if indeed it is a misinterpretation) stand uncorrected. Anderson and George write:

However, it is up to Pope Francis to make clear that this interpretation is sound, and lest the faithful be kept in confusion (and distress), it is his obligation to provide the necessary clarification.

We have seen no clarification. Instead we have seen the Venezuelan strongman, Nicolas Maduro, citing the Pope’s words as he asked legislators to consider legal recognition for same-sex marriage. And we have seen a Washington Post editorial encouraging judges to ponder the papal remarks when weighing the rights of Catholic institutions to uphold the Church’s perennial teachings. Rightly or wrongly, leftist politicians are quoting the Pope to their advantage, and the Vatican is not correcting them. Qui tacet consentit: Silence gives consent.

Having said that one could reconcile the Pope’s statements with previous Church teachings, Anderson and George go on to say that “there is nothing intrinsic to a civil union… that has to conflict with moral reality…” They cite San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s analysis:

… 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.

Perhaps so. But what you would then have would not be a piece of “civil union” legislation as commonly understood. You would have instead a piece of legislation expanding the legal rights of any two or more people who happened to be domiciled at the same address. If there are convincing arguments for that sort of legislation, those arguments should apply to all sorts of living arrangements, not just to homosexual partnerships. But the Pope was talking explicitly about homosexual partnerships. And frankly, so is everyone else who promotes civil unions.

The point of civil-union policies—the only reason why these policies have been proposed and advanced—is not to protect roommates in general, but to give special recognition to those roommates who are engaged in homosexual activities. There has never been any political drive for the acceptance of civil unions “not equated to marriage.” That’s the whole point.

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