For a long time, people of the Catholic faith have been looking towards the Vatican and the incumbent Pontiff any time they have needed peace of mind and solace, and especially at the times of heartbreak and emotional loss. For many people, seeking spiritual help can relieve what is on their mind and give them a small spring in their step when once more venturing out to the big world where their problems have been in abeyance.
However, previous popes have had a reputation for being very conservative and for being sticklers for tradition and the teachings and doctrine of the Catholic church itself, and have as a result often been lagging behind contemporary issues and the modern man himself. A lot of the faithful have been put off approaching spiritual leaders for advice, if they have been deemd ‘deviant’ or somehow different from the remainder of the flock, and this is a situation that a lot of homosexual men and women have found themselves in, especially when it comes to the question of civil unions or even same-sex marriages.
The currrent incumbent on the Vatican throne, Pope Francis, has come out with the wish, or that he feels, that same-sex couples should have the right to have “civil unions”. He made the statement, which some observers and religious correspondents say are his clearest comments so far on homosexual relationships, in a documentary which has been directed by the Russian film maker Evgeny Afineevsky. ‘They are children of God and have a right to a family,’ the pontiff is quoted as having said, before continuing ‘Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.’
‘They are children of God and have a right to a family,– Pope Francis
Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.’ Pope Francis
The film, which is entitled Francesco, is a look at the life, work and reign of Pope Francis, and has been premiered in conjunction with the Rome Film Festival. In addition to the Pope Francis’s remarks on civil unions, the documentary also pictures him trying to encourage two homosexual men to partake in a church service with their three children. As it stands, under present Catholic teachings, homosexual relationships are seen as being ‘deviant behaviour’.
However, the comments by the pope have lead to speculation and a lot of wagging tongues amongst those who normally watch the Vatican very closely, and on top of this they indicate Francis’s most striking support yet for the issue since he became Pope in 2013. But a lot of people are wondering whether this is in actual fact a real sea change by the pope or really more of a casual remark made by the head of the Catholic Church, who has been well versed in flirting with liberal feelings in the past, only for him to be seen to retreat back to Orthodox teachings when the going gets tough?
In his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, before becoming the overall leader of the church, he was a tough opponent of outright gay marriage, which was in fact legalised in Argentina ten years ago and as an alternative he voiced support for civil unions for gay people. However, this is his first vocal support for the issue as Pope, and it will without doubt be warmly welcomed by a lot of church workers on the more liberal section of the church, while it will be largely attacked by those on the conservative wing.
But any meaningful alteration to the Catholic doctrine on such a topic would usually be presented in a largely formal manner and after quite a lot of discussion within the Vatican itself. There is, at the moment, no clear signal that either is coming soon. In 2013, the year that he ascended to the papal throne, in the book On Heaven and Earth, the Pontiff stated that legally comparing same-sex relationships to that of heterosexual marriages would be an anthropological regression and a step backwards.
In the very same year, he confirmed the Catholic Church’s view that gay acts were indeed a sin, but said that gay orientation was not in itself. A year later, it was reported that the Pope had come out in support of civil unions for same-sex men and women in an interview, but the Vatican’s press office ended up having to deny this.
The pope’s comments have the power to heal the wounds that previous pontiffs have created by not reaching out to homosexuals in the past and they have the potential to modernise the church in the face of a changing world. The remarks he made also have the power to create true equality amongst the Catholic faithful and to unite the young especially to the will of the Vatican. The world is waiting to see if there is a follow up to this story.