Several Roman Catholic prelates either denounced or attempted to clarify comments Pope Francis made this week that endorsed civil union laws for same-sex couples.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who has before described homosexual relationships as “profoundly disordered and harmful,” said in a statement: “Such declarations generate great bewilderment and cause confusion and error among Catholic faithful, inasmuch as they are contrary to the teaching of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.”
“They cause wonderment and error regarding the Church’s teaching among people of good will, who sincerely wish to know what the Catholic Church teaches,” Burke further described the papal comments. “They impose upon pastors of souls the duty of conscience to make fitting and necessary clarifications. The context and the occasion of such declarations make them devoid of any magisterial weight. They are rightly interpreted as simple private opinions of the person who made them.”
“These declarations do not bind, in any manner, the consciences of the faithful who are rather obliged to adhere with religious submission to what Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and the ordinary Magisterium of the Church teach,” Burke added.
Burke, who sits on the Vatican’s highest court and formerly served as the archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, cited both the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church to lay out his case that God ordained the differences between the sexes for a reason and that homosexual relationships are “contrary to the natural law, closed to the gift of life and void of a true affective and sexual complementarity.”
“To speak of a homosexual union, in the same sense as the conjugal union of the married, is, in fact, profoundly misleading, because there can be no such union between persons of the same sex,” Burke continued. “In what regards the administration of justice, persons in the homosexual condition, as all citizens, can always make use of the provisions of law to safeguard their private rights.”
Burke closed his statement with a sobering warning that the pope’s comments are causing “turmoil, confusion, and error.”
It is a source of deepest sadness and pressing pastoral concern that the private opinions reported with so much emphasis by the press and attributed to Pope Francis do not correspond to the constant teaching of the Church, as it is expressed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and is guarded, protected and interpreted by the Magisterium. Equally sad and concerning is the turmoil, confusion, and error they cause among the Catholic faithful, as is the scandal they cause, in general, by giving the totally false impression that the Catholic Church has had a change of course, that is, has changed its perennial teaching regarding such fundamental and critical questions.
Joining Burke in his sentiment was Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, who attempted to nuance the pope’s comments by clarifying that they were “not an endorsement of homosexual activity.” In a statement posted to the Boston Archdiocese’s website, O’Malley said in part:
Just as the Church does not campaign against civil laws that allow for common-law marriage or second marriages that are not sacramental, even though such arrangements can be in violation of the laws of the Church, the Holy Father recognizes that in civil society there can be cogent reasons to enact such laws providing for civil unions which are not the same as the institution of marriage.
Pope Francis has seen civil unions as a way for governments to provide protections and health care for couples in long-term, committed relationships, whether they be siblings or friends or partners. Such arrangements are not always of a sexual nature.
The Holy Father is very aware of the suffering and alienation of homosexual individuals, gay people, who are rejected by family and society. He is also keenly aware of the parents and loved ones who also suffer because a member of their family is bullied or marginalized for being different. The demands of sexual morality are very challenging for anyone seeking to lead a life of faithful discipleship. We do not serve people well by falsely claiming that we can change the Decalogue. Our task is to show people that we love them and care about them and that together we can strive to be better people, more generous, more courageous and more faithful to what God is calling us to do.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, also clarified: “The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and must have their personal human rights and civil rights recognized and protected by law. However,…