Vatican Secretariat of State provides context of Pope Francis’ civil union remark

The Vatican’s Secretary of State has asked papal representatives to share with bishops some clarifications regarding comments on civil unions made by Pope Francis in a recently released documentary, according to the apostolic nuncio to Mexico.

The clarifications explain that the pope’s comments do not pertain to Catholic doctrine regarding the nature of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, but to provisions of civil law.

“Some statements, contained in the documentary ‘Francisco’ by screenwriter Evgeny Afineevsky, have provoked, in recent days, various reactions and interpretations. Therefore, some helpful points are offered, with the desire to present an adequate understanding of the Holy Father’s words,” Archbishop Franco Coppolo, apostolic nuncio, posted on Facebook Oct. 30.

The nuncio told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, that the content of his post was provided by the Vatican Secretariat of State to apostolic nunciatures, in order to be shared with bishops.

The post explained that in a 2019 interview, unpublished parts of which were aired in the recent documentary, the pope commented at different times on two distinct issues: that children should not be ostracized from their families because of their sexual orientation, and on civil unions, amid discussion of a 2010 same-sex marriage bill in the Argentine legislature, which Pope Francis, who was then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, opposed.

The interview question that prompted remark on civil unions was “inherent in a local law from ten years ago in Argentina on ‘equal marriages of same-sex couples’ and the opposition of the then Archbishop of Buenos Aires in this regard. In this regard, Pope Francis has affirmed that ‘it is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage,’ adding that, in the same context, he had spoken of the right of these people to have certain legal coverage: ‘what we have to do is a law of civil union; they have the right to be covered legally. I defended that,’” Coppolo posted on Facebook.

“The Holy Father had expressed himself thus during an interview in 2014: ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman. The secular States want to justify civil unions to regulate various situations of coexistence, moved by the demand to regulate economic aspects between people, such as ensuring health care. These are coexistence pacts of a different nature, of which I would not be able to give a list of the different forms. It is necessary to see the various cases and evaluate them in their variety,” the post added.

“Therefore it is evident that Pope Francis has referred to certain state provisions, certainly not to the doctrine of the Church, reaffirmed numerous times over the years,” the statement said.

The Secretariat of State’s statement is consistent with recent public statements from two Argentine bishops: Archbishop Hector Aguer and Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, the emeritus and current archbishops of La Plata, Argentina, and with additional reporting on the context of the pope’s remarks.

On Oct. 21, Fernandez posted on Facebook that before he became pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio “always recognized that, without calling it ‘marriage,’ in fact there are very close unions between people of the same sex, which do not in themselves imply sexual relations, but a very intense and stable alliance.”

“They know each other thoroughly, they share the same roof for many years, they take care of each other, they sacrifice for each other. Then it may happen that they prefer that in an extreme case or illness they do not consult their relatives, but that person who knows their intentions in depth. And for the same reason they prefer that it be that person who inherits all their assets, etc.”

“This can be contemplated in the law and is called ‘civil union’ [unión civil] or ‘law of civil coexistence’ [ley de convivencia civil], not marriage.”

“What the Pope has said on this subject is what he also maintained when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires,” Fernández added.

“For him, the expression ‘marriage’ has a precise meaning and only applies to a stable union between a man and a woman open to communicating life…there is a word, ‘marriage,’ that only applies to that reality. Any other similar union requires another name,” the archbishop explained.

Last week, Aguer told ACI Prensa that in 2010, “Cardinal Bergoglio, then being the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, proposed in a plenary assembly of the Argentine bishops’ conference to support the legality of civil unions of homosexual persons by the state, as a possible alternative to what was called – and is called – ‘marriage equality.’”

“At that time, the argument against him was that it was not a merely political or sociological question, but that it involved a moral judgment; consequently, the sanction of civil laws contrary to the natural order cannot be promoted. It was also noted that this teaching has been repeatedly stated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The plenary of the Argentine bishops rejected that proposal and voted against it,” Aguer said.

America Magazine published Oct. 24 the apparent context of the pope’s remark on civil unions.

During a discussion on the pope’s opposition to a same-sex marriage proposal when he was an archbishop in Argentina, Alazraki asked Pope Francis if he had adopted more liberal positions after becoming pope, and if so, whether that was attributable to the Holy Spirit.

Alazraki asked: “You waged a whole battle over egalitarian weddings, of couples of the same sex in Argentina. And later they say that you arrived here, they elected you pope and you appeared much more liberal than what you were in Argentina. Do you recognize yourself in this description that some people who knew you before make, and was it the grace of the Holy Spirit that gave you a boost? (laughs)”

According to America Magazine, the pope responded that: “The grace of the Holy Spirit certainly exists. I have always defended the doctrine. And it is curious that in the law on homosexual marriage…. It is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage. But what we have to have is a law of civil union (ley de convivencia civil), so they have the right to be legally covered.”

The last sentence was omitted when Alazraki’s interview was broadcast in 2019.

The Secretariat of State’s statement seems to confirm that the pope said “I stood up for that,” immediately after his other remarks on civil unions, a fact which had not previously been made clear.

Featured image by Daniel Ibañez/CNA

COMING UP: Moral courage and the many cultures of death

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CRACOW. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been two years since I was last in Cracow, where for three decades I’ve done extensive research and taught great students while forming friendships with many remarkable people. It was wonderful to be back in one of the world’s greatest cities, and soon after I arrived in late June, I took a long walk to see what had changed. The first major difference I noticed was that the plaza in front of the central railway station (named for my late friend Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, a World War II courier for the Polish Home Army and the man from whom the future John Paul II got real news via Radio Free Europe’s Polish service) has a new, strikingly modern memorial, dedicated to the memory of Colonel Ryszard Kukliński.

That name is not well-known throughout a western world that has largely forgotten the meaning and lessons of the Cold War. But if Jan Nowak-Jeziorański was right when he spoke about the Polish colonel in the mid-1990s, Ryszard Kuklinski was a genuine hero of the long, twilight struggle against communist totalitarianism — the man who helped prevent a bloody Soviet invasion of Poland to crush the nascent Solidarity movement.

An accomplished officer in the communist-era Polish Army, Ryszard Kukliński began to doubt the truth of what he had been told about the West when, as a member of an international commission, he met American military men in Vietnam in the mid-1960s. His doubts about communism and its purposes intensified by orders of magnitude in 1968, when the brutal Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia ground the Prague Spring to dust under the treads of Soviet tanks, and in 1970, when the Polish army shot Polish workers during labor strife. Privy to some of the Warsaw Pact’s most confidential strategic plans, he became convinced that, if the Cold War turned hot and the east bloc attacked the West, the Soviets would sacrifice Poland as retaliatory western tactical nuclear strikes hit the second wave of Warsaw Pact troops pushing west. So, in 1972, Kukliński, risking his life and his family’s safety, offered his services to the United States and for the next nine years was the West’s most important intelligence asset behind the iron curtain.

His greatest service to Poland and the cause of freedom came in the later months of 1980. Thanks to his efforts, the United States knew the entire order-of-battle the Soviet Union had organized to stamp out Solidarity, which had held its first formal congress in September 1980. With that information, and working in concert with the incoming Reagan administration, outgoing national security adviser Zbigniew Brzeziński, with the help of the AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland, was able to organize a comprehensive western response to a potential Soviet invasion of Poland: an international economic blockade that would have severely damaged the already-staggering Soviet economy. Faced with economic ruin, the Soviet leadership backed down and the Warsaw Pact divisions that had surrounded Poland withdrew.

Colonel Kukliński and his family were exfiltrated to the West; two of his sons later died under dubious circumstances that may have involved Russian retribution, and Kukliński lived out his life under an assumed name in the United States, dying in 2004. There was public controversy when he returned to his native Poland for a 1998 visit, with some charging that he had violated his officer’s oath by working for American intelligence for a decade. John Paul II, through various intermediaries, quietly passed the word that Kukliński was to be regarded in Poland as a national hero. Zbigniew Brzeziński, who held the exact same view, put it brilliantly, in a comment that appears on the Kukliński Memorial in Cracow: Colonel Kukliński was “the first Polish officer in NATO.” 

Communism was a distinctive form of the culture of death, for the effort to create “Homo Sovieticus” was a lethal assault on souls. Colonel Ryszard Kukliński took a courageous stand against that particular culture of death, knowing as he did that freedom is never cost-free: freedom lived nobly always requires sacrifice. His example should be pondered by Catholic citizens and Catholic public officials throughout the West today, who are called to resist, with similar moral courage and effect, that form of the culture of death that masquerades as the ideology of “choice.” May we and our elected officials be as principled and brave as the Polish officer who took what John Paul II described at the United Nations in 1995 as the “the risk of freedom.”