Yes, Holy Father, You Are Right: “Let Us Not Play With Truths”

The position of Pope Francis in regard to homosexual “marriage” has not changed since he became a bishop in Argentina, according to John Allen Jr. on the Crux news site last year. Allen writes that, while the pope is against homosexual “marriage,” he is willing to tolerate homosexual acts under the title of “civil unions.”

More recently, Peter Baklinski of LifeSiteNews confirmed the report last month, writing, “Pope Francis signals support for legal recognition of same sex ‘civil unions.’” He offers a translation of Pope Francis’s words as follows:

What can we think of marriage between people of the same sex? “Matrimony” is a historical word. Always, in humanity, and not just in the Church, it was a man and a woman. It’s not possible to change it just like that … It’s not possible to change it. It is part of nature. That’s how it is. Let us call it, then, “civil unions.” Let us not play with truths.

If the translation of the pope’s statement is accurate (and it seems to be widely accepted as accurate) the pope appears to be willing to recognize homosexual couples living together as legal “civil unions.” According to these reports, the pope is willing to do this because he wants persons in homosexual relationships to be able to obtain medical and other social benefits which can only be obtained if they are living in a “union” under the titles of “marriage” or “civil union.” So, the pope is choosing the title of “civil union” as the lesser of two evils for the sake of obtaining health and social benefits for homosexual couples. He wants to be kind and merciful.

But there is an enormous problem with this attempt to accommodate civil society. When the pope recognizes the giving of financial help to homosexual couples under the umbrella of a “civil union,” he unwittingly disparages chastity. For two people, such as two men or two women (brothers, sisters, or just friends) who live together in a celibate state, will not be able to get the same financial benefits. But an even more serious problem is that the pope is allowing a temptation to arise among celibate Catholics who struggle with same-sex attraction. Why should they continue to resist their attraction, if the pope himself is willing to allow society to reward homosexual activity, while denying the same rewards to chastity? Surely this toleration of immoral behavior will further degrade our society by accelerating the spread of homosexual activity throughout the world.

In fact, this toleration of homosexual activity by both the Church and civil government has gone on since the Sexual Revolution in the 1970s, but toleration has certainly not decreased the activity. We have already seen this happen in the worldwide spread of homosexual “marriage.” In less than a decade the practice has become legally enforced in the United States and other countries around the world. Under the guise of matrimony, the evil action of homosexuality has become not just tolerated but it’s approval is becoming the norm throughout society.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 1902-1903) teaches that there can be no “legitimate” civil law contrary to the Divine Law. So, a homosexual relationship can never be a “legitimate” civil union. In no. 2357 the Catechism says about homosexual acts: “Under no circumstances can they be approved.” That would include “civil unions.”

Therefore, the question raised by Pope Francis’ action is this: Under what circumstances can homosexual acts be tolerated? There is a difference between “approving” and “tolerating” evil, as Pope Paul VI explained when discussing contraception in no. 14 of his encyclical, Humanae Vitae: “Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good,” it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (Rom. 3:8).” In other words, this timeless moral imperative remains in effect, as it always has: The end does not justify the means.

Now, what happens if we apply Paul VI’s teaching to Pope Francis’s toleration of homosexuality civil unions? It appears that Pope Francis is willing to recognize homosexual couples living together in “civil unions”—and willing to tolerate the moral evil of “practicing homosexuality”—so that these practicing homosexuals can obtain medical and social benefits.

If we accept this interpretation of Pope Francis’s intentions, the next question is whether he is tolerating “a lesser moral evil to avoid an even greater evil”—or is he doing it to “promote a greater good”?

It seems likely that Pope Francis is operating in the belief that tolerating homosexual activity under the guise of civil unions instead of marriage will help avoid the further denigration of true marriage. Otherwise why not also recognize marriage by homosexuals? But with all due respect to the Holy Father, this thinking is flawed. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 2357) we know that homosexual activity is “intrinsically” inimical to both human sexuality and matrimony and is, in fact, an attack on them both. So, tolerating homosexual activity under the title of “civil unions” instead of marriage will certainly not “avoid” the further denigration of true marriage—it will in fact do just the opposite, because the real evil here has less to do with marriage or civil unions, than the truth that homosexual acts themselves are what is always evil. Which is why the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger insisted in 2003 that respect for homosexuals can not lead to the “legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

The “greater good” which the pope seems to be striving for is better medical and social benefits for homosexual couples. But that is an earthly consideration, whereas the pope should be concerned with the eternal life of these couples—in other words, he should be working to dissuade them from engaging in homosexual activity, which is spiritually deadly. If Pope Francis believes in eternal life and eternal punishment (and we must assume that he does), eternal salvation is an infinitely greater good than obtaining medical and social benefits in this life: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” (Mk. 8:36).

Using the Catholic values articulated by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, the choice to tolerate the evil practice of homosexuality as a “civil union” cannot be justified in today’s society—even for obtaining health and social benefits for homosexual couples.

So how are we to regard the statement of Pope Francis? Our Holy Father is on the right track but he just does not go far enough. He thinks he is setting marriage on a higher moral plane by explaining “Matrimony is a historical word” whose meaning cannot be changed all of a sudden to mean anything other than a holy union between a man and a woman.

By the same token, the pope should also note that the term “sodomy” is also a “historical word” and a reality. The word “sodomy” was used in the Scriptures and in both Church and civil documents and historically goes back to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 17-19). “It’s not possible to change it.”

Therefore, the pope must insist upon the true historical meaning of the words especially in his dialogues with the media. What a perfect opportunity to teach the Gospel clearly! He cannot let today’s secular civil society sweep the word “sodomy” under the rug by putting that act on the same moral plane as the state of marriage, or “civil unions.” (In fact, a “civil union” between two baptized non-Catholics with the correct intention to marry, is a Holy Sacrament of Matrimony.)

I would even go so far as to say that, when speaking to the media in reference to homosexual acts and relationships, Pope Francis should always use the word “sodomy” which is derived historically from specific evil acts mentioned in Sacred Scripture. Only in this way will everyone realize what is a stake in the pope’s dialogue with secular society over so called “civil unions.”

Now the Church is at a crossroads. The Church’s task is to educate and teach the nature of true marriage, and to warn the world that homosexual activity is an affront to God and to nature. This cannot be done by shifting the terms and seeming to say that if it’s called “civil unions” the evil of sodomy is taken away. Not so. We must not permit society to mask the evil of sodomy under the titles “same-sex marriages” or “civil unions.”

In this the pope is correct: “Let us not play with truths.”

(Photo Credit: The above image is taken from a CNN report on Cardinal Bergoglio [Pope Francis] and his support for civil unions in Argentina.)

Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M. Cap

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Fr. Regis Scanlon, O.F.M.Cap., is spiritual director and chaplain for Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity in Denver, as well as being one of the spiritual directors for the Missionaries of Charity in the western United States. He was director of prison ministry for the Archdiocese of Denver, from 1999 to 2010; a chaplain for Missionaries of Charity at their now-closed AIDS hospice, Seton House, and at Gift of Mary homeless shelter for women in Denver from 1989 to 2008. His articles have been published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Faith, Soul Magazine, Pastoral Life, and The Priest. He has also made three series for Mother Angelica's EWTN: “Crucial Questions,” “Catholic Answers,” and “What Did Vatican II Really Teach?”

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