Marriage? No! Civil Partnerships? Maybe.

One unexpected development following this year’s papal election has been the sudden willingness of certain archbishops and bishops around the world to speak out in favour of civil law protection for same-sex partnerships. In an interview with a Costa Rican newspaper, Archbishop Piero Marini, President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses, told a reporter that society should “recognise the union of persons of the same sex, because there are many couples that suffer because their civil rights aren’t recognized.” His comments came on the heels of an interview in which Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, said: “There can be same-sex partnerships and they need respect, and even civil law protection.” A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Vienna later issued a statement explaining that in no way was the Archbishop suggesting that the Church’s stance on homosexuality should change. By far the most celebrated advocate of this rethink is Pope Francis who, in 2010, as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, urged his fellow bishops to support civil unions as a compromise at a time when the government of Argentina was about to enact legislation for marriage equality. The articulation of this argument by bishops in England, as well in Colombia, France, Italy, Germany, the United States, and within the Vatican, is a welcome development even though it falls short of full marriage equality advocated by many LGBT Catholics, their friends and families. Professor Conor Gearty, in an article for The Tablet in May [Imagining a Catholic Future], detects a whiff of hypocrisy in “holding that civil partnership is awful until gay marriage is suggested, at which point suddenly the old heresy becomes the rock of common sense”. Regrettably, Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster chose to remind Catholics in his Pastoral Letter of July (The Narrow Gate) that the Church remains opposed in principle to same-sex civil partnerships because they fail “to recognise the uniqueness of marriage, its specific nature and its crucial role in human well-being; they promoted lifestyles with a presumption of sexual activity outside the teaching of the Church” leading to a redefinition of marriage, “just as we have seen”. He attempted to sweeten the pill by adding that the Church is “always willing to engage in dialogue and conversation with those who see things differently” while offering “unfailing respect as they strive to do their best. We defend them from harshness and prejudice. Ready always to attribute the best of motives to others, we are slow to judge them in the particularity of their circumstances”. If same-sex relationships are now regarded, at least by some members of the hierarchy, as worthy of protection in law, then the Church will some day have to acknowledge that expressions of intimacy of various kinds within those relationships are an essential element of the bond uniting a couple in love. Such acts of intimacy should not therefore be regarded as a sin contra naturam, but as entirely ‘normal’ and ‘natural’. In a House of Lords debate on the equal marriage legislation in June, the Catholic peer, Lord Deben – the former Conservative MP, John Gummer – said that homosexuality was not “heterosexuals behaving badly, but gay people behaving naturally”.

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One comment on “Marriage? No! Civil Partnerships? Maybe.
  1. With ref. to the latest “Quest” text sent to me it seems as case of “Divided we fall , but United we stand”.
    Marriage is one thing and should be left to serve it’s traditional role of sanctifying a union between a man and a woman before God; ideally recognised by the state simultaneously, while civil partnerships and registrations should be let be a simple straightforward property arrangement that keep the legally minded happy. Bless.

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