Pope Francis recently made a statement that homosexuals, like heterosexuals and all other people, are God’s children and those in civil unions ought to have legal protections and access to health care. This has been interpreted by some as his endorsement, or even encouragement, of same sex marriages. But his comments have far more to do with the dignity of every human person—the focus of October’s “Respect Life” month—than with marriage.
Though not altering the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony that is always between one man and one woman, he noted that gay people have the right to be in a family and ought to receive the rights extended to those in civil unions, as we do in The United States. Sacramental marriage in the church offers lots of commentary on sex; it condemns pre-marital sexuality and extra-marital sex right along with homosexual acts. It contends that the level of intimacy that two individuals share ought to correlate with the level of commitment those two individuals vow in the sight of God. Though a pope or other church leaders can offer opinions regarding civil marriage and legal protections given therein, their jurisdiction lies in ecclesial, not civil, marriage. The difference between the two definitions of marriage will be discussed, debated, and discerned for years to come inside and outside of the church.
Francis’ chief critics argue that he confuses people by things that he says. Many of them prefer matters to be black and white, right or wrong; they view the world as evil and the church as good: as a light that was created to dispel the world’s darkness. They want matters of faith to be clearly defined and labeled. They view homosexuality as intrinsically disordered, almost as if gay people are children of a lesser creator. Those more in line with the pontiff, view the world to be generally good—after all, it was created by the hand of God. We, creatures, therefore, possess a nature that is always oriented to what is good and holy, since we were created in His image and likeness. Our primary task is to discern between the forces of darkness and light so that we can bring about a better world as co-creators, or developers of the world that has been entrusted to us. Rather than merely tolerating gay people, as some church leaders do, Francis reverences God’s beauty, truth, and goodness in human creation by honoring the dignity of every person and calling attention to violation of societal rights when they occur.
Jesus confused the Pharisees, but most people did not find Him confusing. Similarly, Francis has been consistently compassionate in his comments, offering concern for the outcasts of our society and promoting respect for every human, starting with innocent children, and continuing with suffering souls. I don’t think he confuses people but consistently presents Christ’s message of compassion. His observation about civil unions in society and legal protections under secular law was not about sacramental marriage in the church or the sanctity of holy matrimony. But far more than that, his sympathetic commentary is about the church’s fundamental teachings regarding respect for life in all circumstances and among all people. As we bid farewell to October, the month our church designates a universal focus upon the integrity of life and the beauty of our creation, it is a good time to reflect upon, and better comprehend, what we believe, even if we approach it from different points of view.