I have been asked to share my thoughts on the “off the cuff” statements Pope Francis recently made on gay civil unions during a documentary film. Since the Leftist news-media has seized this opportunity to push the homosexual agenda even further, and some Evangelical Protestants are reacting with hysteria, this is probably a good time to do that. As a catechist and apologist, I’ll share some bullet points below…
- Popes are not demigods. Truth does not change depending on the pope. Truth is truth, regardless of who the pope is, or what he says about it.
- Church doctrine (objective truth) does not change with the change of a pope, and popes do not change Church doctrine (objective truth). Popes can change church discipline, law, procedure and customs. Popes can also clarify doctrine (truth), but they can’t change doctrine (truth). Specifically, no pope (ever) has the authority to change a doctrine (truth) to mean the opposite of what it previously meant. Once a doctrine (truth) is defined, it’s permanent. It can be further defined, and narrowed down, but it cannot be undone.
- Church doctrine (objective truth) teaches that same-sex “marriage” is a sham and it’s not a “marriage” at all. People of the same sex can never be “married” to each other, even if the state says they are, and anything that simulates such a relationship is objectively disordered and unnatural. Homosexual relationships are themselves objectively disordered and unnatural. This is straight from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2357-2359.
- By extension of what is written in the Catechism, same-sex civil unions are objectively disordered and unnatural. Pope Saint John Paul II said: “The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.” ~ (Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 3, 2003) This, by definition, excludes the Church’s approval of “gay civil unions.” This has been defined as doctrine. It’s a lower doctrine, but a doctrine nonetheless. It cannot be changed. Not even another pope can change it. No. Pope Francis cannot change this.
- Clearly, Pope Francis is a controversial pope, and somewhat of a rebel himself. There are some aspects of Church teaching, like this one, that he obviously doesn’t like. Just because he’s the pope, however, that doesn’t mean he has the power to change these things. He can change Church discipline and practice, which he has done on many occasions, but he can’t undo Church doctrine (objective truth) that has already been defined. That is not within the authority of any human being, not even the pope.
- Pope Francis has held this unorthodox view of approving gay civil unions for a long time now. He’s made similar statements back when he was Cardinal Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. So there’s nothing new here, and being elected pope apparently didn’t change his mind. He disagrees with Church teaching on this matter, but he can’t change it, which is why his statements are limited to “off the cuff” remarks at this time. In this sense, what we are seeing here is the same Jorge Mario Bergoglio, just candidly saying what he’s always believed, regardless of what the Church officially teaches.
- Catholics find it confusing for a pope to be at odds with Church teaching, and they’re not sure what to do with it. This isn’t the first time in history this has happened, and it may not be the last, but Catholics usually aren’t privy to the internal conflicts of a pope with his own Church.
- What we need to understand is that the pope is not God, nor is he a demigod. His personal opinions are not magisterial (even if he says they are) when they are at odds with previous magisterial teaching of the Church. As I said above, Church doctrine (objective truth) cannot be changed, not even by a pope.
- When a pope begins teaching his opinion against church doctrine, there is a term for that. It’s called a “fallen pope,” and Pope Frances seems to fit this description. I covered this topic in greater detail here: When Peter has Fallen. A fallen pope is still the pope. He’s not an antipope (that is to say “an impostor”), nor does that make him “evil” or “bad.” What it makes him is “fallen” from the role that his office demands of him. Our job is to pray for such a pope, but not follow him into error.
- It has been said that the news media has somehow misquoted the pope in all of this, or somehow taken his comments out of context. While I admit that always remains a possibility, I must also admit that Pope Francis frequently gives the media ample opportunity to run with comments he really did make, and he has a repeating pattern of doing this. So unless it can be proved that the media has misrepresented him, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that he meant exactly what it was reported he said. He does, after all, have a history of holding to this position.
- In all fairness to Pope Francis, it should be pointed out that he has nowhere stated approval of homosexual (gay) “marriage.” He has only expressed approval for same-sex civil unions which, according to civil law, is basically the same thing as “marriage.” Though that does not equate to marriage in natural law, nor the sacrament of matrimony within the Church. It would appear that Francis’ acquiescence to gay civil-unions is, in his mind, a reasonable compromise to solve certain legal problems that arise from people giving in to homosexual temptations, and engaging in homosexual relationships. Yet as I pointed out above, the Church does not approve of such compromises with sin.
- It is the duty of every single Catholic to know what the Catholic Church actually teaches, rather than blindly follow the whims and musings of a pope, bishop or priest. That means we dust off those old catechisms and start reading them again.
So, the question is asked: what do I tell my Evangelical friends when they ask me about this subject? The answer is this. Tell them…
The pope is wrong. Church teaching opposes gay civil unions, and the pope doesn’t have the authority to change it. The pope is just stating his personal opinion here, which appears to contradict Church teaching. Catholics are obliged to follow Church teaching, not the personal opinions of the pope, and the pope is not infallible on anything, unless he says he is, and this pope hasn’t done that.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.