Queer Catholic Perspectives on the Pope Supporting Same-Sex Civil Unions

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Illustration: Daisy Daniels

Queer Catholic Perspectives on the Pope Supporting Same-Sex Civil Unions

By Kellie Toyama

In the 2020 documentary Francesco, director Evgeny Afineevsky follows the life and teachings of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit bishop of Rome. The documentary drew attention in the media for a seemingly bold and controversial statement made by the pope when the film brought up the place of LGBT Catholics in the church:

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it… What we have to create is a civil union law, That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”


Since the release of the documentary, the Vatican has claimed that the pope’s words were “published without proper contextualization,” citing that the comments were from an interview in 2019. Regardless of when the pope made this declaration, it was bound to stir debate and has not since been rescinded. Just in 2003, Pope Benedict XVI signed a document written by the Vatican’s doctrine office that stated, “legal recognition of homosexual unions would obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage.”  

What this endorsement of same-sex civil unions will actually do for LGBTQ+ rights in the church is up for debate, but several young, queer Catholics seem to come to a similar consensus on what it means to them personally. 

“He said civil unions, not marriages, that was something I noticed immediately,” said alumna Madison Foote (‘20). Foote emphasized that the statement wasn’t an explicit endorsement for the Catholic church to recognize same-sex couples in the sacrament of marriage. 

She admitted that over the generations of her Filipino Catholic family, the “intense Catholic upbringing has lessened,” but still spoke about her experiences at a conservative all-girls Catholic high school. In the eyes of some administration there, the pope’s “liberal” declarations made him “illegitimate.” 

Sophomore Paul Lussman also spoke of his experience attending a Catholic high school that was “dismissive” of his efforts to start a Gay-Straight Alliance club because of doctrine.

“With Pope Francis saying this, he acknowledges the presence of the LGBTQ community in the Catholic church, and it makes me feel validated and valued,” Lussman said. “Do I think everyone will acknowledge and accept what he said? No. This is only the beginning.”

Alum Gillian Ebersole (‘20), who wrote their thesis on “reconciling with a queer identity and a Catholic one,” also found assurance in hearing this news about the pope but doesn’t believe that the Catholic Church will institutionally change its stance on queer marriage anytime soon. 

“I personally think it will always be difficult to separate Catholic teaching about marriage from homophobia and heteronormativity,” they said. “For me, the ideal outcome of Pope Francis' words would be [the] mobilization of Catholic voters and activists to consider LGBTQ+ rights when they make decisions. I would like to see the Church make an effort to acknowledge that LGBTQ+ lives are valuable and that queer love is sacred. Perhaps that is a bit optimistic.”

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