“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. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”
That’s a quote from Pope Francis. Pope Francis—the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. And not only has he come out in support of civil unions for same-sex couples: he has also confirmed old rumors that he did so in his native Argentina as early as 2010. For at least a decade, Francis has quietly but actively dissented from Church teaching on human sexuality.
Lest there be any doubt, in 2003 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—then led by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who was appointed by John Paul II—declared:
The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions…. Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, 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 for the good of society itself.
That is indeed the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church. And the Pope is now on the record dissenting from that teaching, publicly and unambiguously.
Up to this point, I’ve tried very hard to give Francis the benefit of the doubt. No longer. The Pope has made it abundantly clear that his mind is not with the mind of the Church. He doesn’t believe in the sacred deposit of the Magisterium. He doesn’t feel bound to the Church’s traditions.
Some readers will accept that implicitly. Others will not. So, let’s be very clear: One of the first principles of Catholic social teaching is that immoral acts must not be given legal sanction. That’s why the Church plainly teaches that abortion (CCC, 2273) and pornography (CCC, 2354) should be prohibited by law. We as Catholics believe that civil authorities must not condone vice, even implicitly.
For the Pope—or any Catholic—to endorse same-sex civil unions is wicked. It follows the exact same logic that Joe Biden uses to justify his support for abortion: “I’m personally opposed to killing babies in the womb, but I wouldn’t impose that view on women who want to kill their babies.” The Pope has just made that exact same argument for male sodomy.
This may be the most significant moment in papal history since Paul VI published Humanae Vitae. In fact, Francis’s comments are a kind of diabolical inversion of Humanae Vitae.
When he ruled that artificial contraception was always and everywhere immoral, Paul VI was addressing a live debate in the Church that had never been definitively resolved. And not only did he go against popular opinion: he contradicted many of his own leading theologians, including many “conservatives.” As for Francis, nobody was expecting him to weigh in on this matter. This was a spontaneous remark, and on a matter that has long been settled by Church authorities. Only a small handful of “mainstream” theologians and bishops have ever signaled their support for civil unions.
Paul defended the Magisterium against vast legions of Sexual Revolutionaries outside the Vatican walls and their many fifth-columnists within. Francis has raised the white flag to the Sexual Revolution without their firing so much as a peashooter in his direction.
Some Catholics will take this as proof that Francis is consciously working to subvert traditional Church teaching. Others will assume he’s just theologically illiterate and, frankly, not very bright. Still others will conclude that he’s prone to spouting off on topics he neither understands nor really cares to understand. Many think he’s going senile, which might be the most charitable view. But I’ll leave that for the reader to decide.
At some level, it doesn’t matter. Whether the Pope is consciously or accidentally dissenting from the Church, he is dissenting from the Church. There’s no question about that.
Little wonder that progressive Catholics are thrilled by the Pope’s comments. Father James Martin, who has long worked to undermine the Church’s teachings on homosexuality, tweeted: “This is a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBTQ people.” His colleague at the Jesuit-run America Magazine, Michael J. O’Loughlin, likewise wrote: “People downplaying the Pope’s words, on camera, endorsing civil unions for gay couples should ask LGBT Catholics how the remarks make them feel…. I assure you this is big news.” Indeed, it is.
Of course, the Catholic Left will weaponize the Pope’s comments against orthodox believers. Father Daniel Horan, the wayward Franciscan, wonders “what bigoted church leaders who have been firing Catholic school teachers and parish ministers for entering into same-sex unions are thinking right now. Maybe they’re thinking about what their own resignation letters might look like.” No doubt. Progressive bishops and diocesan bureaucrats will use Francis’s endorsement as a cudgel against orthodox Catholics in our schools, colleges, and chanceries.
What’s astonishing is how many “conservative” Catholics can’t see that. Ryan T. Anderson, who gained prominence as a critic of Big Trans and now teaches at the University of Dallas, also took to Twitter in support of Francis. Dr Anderson noted that he himself had also “proposed something like ‘civil unions’ for non-married people.” Again, one tries to give Francis the benefit of the doubt. But that clearly crosses the line into cognitive dissonance.
Francis may be one of those fifth-columnists that Paul VI opposed. Or maybe he’s one of their useful idiots. But this much is perfectly clear: Pope Francis doesn’t think of himself as pope. Whatever his idea of the papacy is, he’s dead wrong.
The duty of the pope is to safeguard and clarify the Sacred Deposit of the Faith. He’s supposed to think with the mind of the Church and follow the Magisterium; instead, he speaks whatever happens to be on his mind and expects the Magisterium to follow. The papacy hasn’t humbled him, as it did his predecessor. It has emboldened him.
Francis embraces the worst Protestant caricature of his office. He sees himself as a man with universal competence, one given to him directly by God Himself. That competence allows him to opine authoritatively on any matter, sacred or secular, that happens to tickle his fancy. That’s not what a pope is, by any stretch of the Catholic imagination.
But we know that. We also know that, when the Pope flatly contradicts the Magisterium, we may ignore him. Better yet, we can—and we must—contradict him loudly, for the sake of those who might otherwise follow the Holy Father into error. “This isn’t what the Church teaches,” we say. “This isn’t what Catholics believe.”
What a horrible burden this pope has put on the faithful. A good Catholic wants nothing more than to respect, trust, and obey the Successor of Saint Peter. Francis has made that impossible for so many. If he were really as wise and compassionate as he believes himself to be, he would recognize how many of his poor children he’s leading into scandal and disbelief.
Yet sometimes a dutiful son can do nothing but resolve to be a bigger man than his father. And that’s the sad situation we now find ourselves in. Pope Francis is leading our family down a dangerous path, and we can’t “accompany” him on that journey. We have to plant our feet firmly in the Church’s sacred traditions, and encourage our brothers and sisters to do the same.
Pray for our Holy Father, who needs our prayers now more than ever. If you love him, stand your ground. Please God, he’ll turn away from his error someday. Then we, the faithful remnant, may lead him back home.
[Photo credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images]