All in the Family?
“Though with a scornful wonder, Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder, By heresies distressed:
— Charles Wesley
Pope Francis’ recent and shocking endorsement of same-sex civil unions encourages a movement within the Church that began at least a quarter of a century ago. Bob Hackendrof, in a timely internet post cited the 2003 document on this matter presented by Cardinal Ratzinger (afterwards, Pope Benedict XVI) to Pope John Paul II who accepted it. The document is “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.” Cardinal Ratzinger’s complete text is available online at
ttps://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html. This document reiterates the traditional position of the Church concerning same-sex unions.
In a 2003 instruction from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the question of homosexual civil unions, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as prefect and approved of by Pope John Paul II, a view incompatible with that now espoused by Pope Francis is presented: There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law. Homosexual acts “close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. . .. Sacred Scripture condemns homosexual acts ‘as a serious depravity…’ (cf. Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor 6:10; 1 Tim 1:10).
Yet now Pope Francis is credibly reported to have said,
“Homosexuals have a right to be part of a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” and “What we have to create is a civil-union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that,”
Francis here makes several claims:
1. Everyone has a right to be part of a family,
2. Children of God have a right to be part of a family,
3. Nobody should be thrown out (of what?),
4. Nobody should be made miserable because of it (what?),
5. We need a civil-union law for homosexual persons,
6. Such a law would legally cover homosexual persons.
His repetitiveness suggests that he was probably speaking on impulse, even though at some more reflective level, he might actually believe whatever he was trying to articulate. I say “speaking on impulse” because:
His statements #1 and #2 say the same thing: All God’s children have a right to be in a family. Francis appears to suggest here that it is morally permissible to follow certain of one’s sexual inclinations if following them lands one in a family. But Jesus famously puts following God before any family relations when He says, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
Francis’ #3 and #4 both say, Nobody should be thrown out and be made miserable because of “it.” Thrown out of what because of what? Homosexual practice? Perhaps heterosexual promiscuity? Francis needs to clarify what he intends here. He apparently thinks that people who are “thrown out” – at least thrown out of the world that he envisions — are miserable. But such a world is not the New Testament world in which we are told to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, etc.
And #5 and #6 both say, A civil law is needed to give legal coverage to same-sex unions. This is utterly mystifying since a growing number of civil authorities world-wide have permitted same-sex unions that allow all the benefits of traditional unions. Francis obviously means that the Church should not view civil same-sex unions as sinful. Why should a Pope endorse a secularly approved behavior that the Church finds sinful? Francis should explain this also.
The doctrine of the Church, as documented by Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) and John Paul II, has reaffirmed that for Christians, any and all sex outside the traditional marriage of one man and one woman is a sin. Francis’ mistake is that he has apparently assumed that if science interjects naturalistic presuppositions into ethical controversies, and then secular popular opinion clamors for something because of that, and then civil authorities consequently permit the something, then it is permissible for Christians to participate in it, even if it is contrary to Christian doctrine. But that, of course, is heresy.
And what should be the extent of such postulated participation? Would Francis support civil unions for gay priests so that they can exercise their right to be in a family? And then what about straight priests? Should they also be allowed civil-union families? And for anyone in a civil union, does Francis think that such unions must be monogamous, or would he allow multiple spouses in civil unions? It would be extremely odd for him to appeal to Scripture and the Tradition in defense of monogamy when he ignores it concerning same-sex civil unions. This same argument applies to incestuous civil unions and to civil unions with, or among, minors. Do participants in such unions have the right to be in a family so that incest and sex with minors is therefore permissible? Does Francis support the present widespread civil permission of abortion and divorce so that family relationships can be “fine-tuned”?
Olaf Stapledon, a writer respected by C.S. Lewis ( who “read him with delight”) and a science fiction pioneer with an eerie sense of prescience, wrote in his novel, Last and First Men, that about two centuries after the “formation of the World State,” Science and Religion made peace and formed a new religion. Stapledon: “In the earlier age it had been the custom to single out heresy and extirpate it with fire and sword. But now the craving for uniformity was fulfilled by explaining away differences, and universal applause.” Stapledon was mistaken about the date, but he was right about the eventual advent of a new religion. It is here.
Some apologists are now pointing out in defense of Francis that he was not speaking ex cathedra about same-sex civil unions, so his remarks carry little, if any, weight. Really? Pope Alexander VI was not acting ex cathedra when he sired numerous illegitimate children, among them Lucrezia Borgia. Pope Julius II was not acting ex cathedra when he personally led his troops in the attack on Mirandola. Maybe Boniface VIII’s declaration of a crusade against his rivals, the Colonna, and his treachery at the destruction of their stronghold, Palestrina, was in some sense an official Papal act. But all these non-Christian actions that, along with Francis remarks about civil same-sex unions, speak for themselves. As Dante has St. Peter say about miscreant Popes,
“He who, on Earth, usurps my place, my place, my place, vacant in the presence of the Son of God, has made my burial-ground a sewer for that blood and filth whereby the perverse Angel who fell from above, is placated down there.” — Paradiso, XXVII, 22
The Scriptures and Tradition of the Church still hold that there is an unchanging Revealed Law mirrored by the Natural Law. If both say that homosexual unions are sinful, then either (1) Pope Francis’ position about civil same-sex unions is heretical, or (2) the three thousand years of the Judeo-Christian tradition (including the views of John Paul II and Benedict XVI have, amazingly, been wrong. If Francis’ position is heretical, then the Roman Catholic Bishops have an obligation to depose him. Or, if Scripture, the Tradition, John Paul II, Benedict XVI are wrong, then let the Bishops say so.
Maybe a Zoom meeting of the Roman Catholic bishops is in order.