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Pope Francis Oversteps the Papal Office

The endorsement of civil unions for same-sex couples by Pope Francis in the film Francesco, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, is a true scandal in both the technical and popular meaning of that term. He has repudiated the teaching of St. John Paul II that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions” and that the “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.”

In addition to endorsing civil unions, Pope Francis says that homosexuals “have a right to a family.” What are we to make of this? There is evidence that Afineevsky has egregiously taken this statement from a videotaped 2019 interview of Pope Francis by the Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki out of context.

Pope Francis was in fact speaking about the right of homosexuals not to be rejected by their own families, not about homosexuals creating new families of their own, presumably by adoption or through surrogate motherhood.

The problem, though, remains that the Vatican has publicly embraced this film. And the pope’s out-of-context “right to a family” comments have been widely interpreted in the media in the way surely intended by Afineevsky but not by Pope Francis. The Vatican has the duty to issue a correction stating clearly that Pope Francis was not giving an endorsement of a right to the adoption of children by homosexual couples. The Church has always taught that there is no right for two men or two women living together in an immoral sexual relationship to adopt children.

As he has at several critical points in the past, however, Pope Francis has overstepped the limits of his office. The pope is a witness to the Faith, not an all-powerful authority who can change Catholic doctrine according to his own mistaken way of thinking. Catholic doctrine teaches that homosexual persons should refrain from same-sex activity and not enter into sinful relationships that lead to mortal sin.

Pope Francis’ remarks will give encouragement to all those, Catholic and not, who reject the Church’s teaching that sodomy is an inherently evil act. They will claim that the Church now accepts homosexual activity as something good when it offers a real good: life within a family, of a sort.

And in the context the pope has placed it, same-sex “families” deserve not only legal protection via civil unions but also societal approval in order to make same-sex couples feel as welcome and accepted as anyone else in society.

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I expect that various cardinals and bishops will make public statements for and against this new teaching. Cardinal Burke has already issued a powerful reply that may be read by clicking here [1].  Divisions, already in existence over other hotly-contested questions, will grow wider.

No “bridge-building” will result from this latest misstep. Those who accept the Church’s perennial teaching on homosexuality will be accused of being anti-Catholic enemies of the pope. But can that be true?

To remind the pope of what the Church has always taught makes those who do so not his opponents, but rather his true friends who have the courage to rebuke a pope who has attempted to do what lies beyond his powers, that is, change Catholic moral doctrine.

The Catholic Church throughout the world has strongly opposed proposals to pass civil-union laws, having been instructed to do so by the Holy See in 2003 [2]. That all changed on October 21, 2020. Encouraging governments to legally formalize unnatural, sinful relationships in which people engage in sodomy is a shameful thing for any Christian to do, but most especially so for the pope.

Pope Francis’ comments are a flagrant betrayal of the mission of the successor of St. Peter “to confirm the brethren” in sound doctrine.

This is a volcanic eruption. Catholicism is now widely but incorrectly seen to consist of the latest remarks by Pope Francis to journalists and filmmakers. Pope Francis has used the power and influence of his sacred office to promote something that is sinful. That is not the mission entrusted by Christ to St. Peter and his successors. Catholic doctrine on the immorality of homosexual acts cannot be changed by Pope Francis or any other pope.

We must pray that he comes to realize the grave offense he has given to God by this wrongful endorsement of homosexual pseudo-marriage. He is encouraging what he is bound by his office to condemn. His acceptance of his election as pope by the College of Cardinals included a solemn commitment to uphold the Faith handed down from the Apostles.

He has no right to promote the erroneous teaching that homosexual people have a right to live together in sin or have a just claim upon civil society, acting through its governments, to publicly recognize such unions as legal institutions that are equivalent in some way to sacramental marriage.

The faithful must call upon Pope Francis to repent of this disastrous declaration, which inflicts grave harm upon the Church.

 

*Image: Evgeny Afineevsky, director of Francesco, greets Pope Francis [L’Osservatore Romano photo]

The Rev. Gerald E. Murray, J.C.D. is a canon lawyer and the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City.