Pope Francis. Credit: Daniel Ibanez/CNA.
Amid an international fracas over Pope Francis’ words on civil unions in a newly released documentary, the pope’s remarks have begun to be used to criticize Catholic organizations facing ongoing religious liberty challenges in the U.S. – despite the pope’s very public alignment with these organizations on the issues of same sex marriages and adoptions.
In “Francesco,” a documentary that premiered Wednesday, Pope Francis called for the passage of civil union laws, saying that homosexual couples need to be “covered” by the state.
The pope also affirmed that “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” emphasizing that “nobody should be thrown out” of a family because of homosexuality, or “be made miserable.” Since the documentary’s release, those remarks have been proven to relate to children ostracized in their families because of their sexual orientation, while in the film they are presented absent this context, the result of heavy editing, with ambiguous implications.
The pope’s remarks have been distorted to suggest a tacit endorsement of adoption by same-sex couples, something Pope Francis has actually consistently opposed during – and prior to– his pontificate.
The Supreme Court is set to hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia on Nov. 4, a case that could impact faith-based adoption and foster care agencies affected by state and local non-discrimination ordinances around the country.
In 2018, the city of Philadelphia notified Catholic Social Services, as well as Bethany Christian Services, that their policies of not working with same-sex couples on foster care placements were discriminatory; the city stopped contracting with both services.
Catholic Social Services declined to alter its policy and has not had any new foster care placements through the city.
Litigation against the city was filed by Sharonell Fulton and Toni Simms-Busch, who have fostered more than 40 children. The lawsuit has now made its way to the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, the Washington Post’s editorial board commented on the case:
“The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear a case about whether a Catholic social services agency is entitled to continue receiving public funds if it refuses to place children in foster care with same-sex couples. Is the church’s position in that case consistent with the pope’s humane assessment that all people are entitled to enjoy the blessings of family life?”
The Post’s editorial did not reference the Pope’s clear record on the issue of such adoptions.
The pope does not support the adoption of children by same-sex couples. He has said that through such adoptions children are “deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God.” He has also said that “every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.”
In fact, according to a long-time theological advisor of the pope, Archbishop Victor Fernandez, the pope’s long-standing opposition to gay marriage is, in part, motivated by his basic Catholic understanding that children should have both a mother and a father. In Argentina, it is well known that Francis’ openness to a civil union law in 2010 was based on his hope that compromise on civil unions would forestall gay marriage, and with it the redefinition of the family.
Efforts to redefine the family through same-sex marriage, Francis said in 2015, “threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture.”
Despite that evidence, it seems unlikely that the Washington Post will be the last outlet or organization to make use of the pope’s words to suggest that Catholic organizations should change their policies.
While his meaning was not the same, the pope’s assertion that same-sex couples “have a right to a family,” makes use of a phrase that has been used by LGBT activists in many countries for the past two decades to insist on the legal right for gay couples to adopt. That phrase, quite apart from the context, is almost certain to become a rallying cry for advocates who want to claim falsely the pope’s support for their initiatives, both in the U.S., and elsewhere.
On Thursday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro asked his country’s legislature to consider a same-sex marriage bill, citing the words of the pope. In the developing world, Maduro will not be the last politician to use that approach.
While spin is rampant and is likely to increase, and while the Holy See has yet to address the controversy, one thing is clear: there is no evidence to suggest that pope has deviated from his long and public opposition to same sex marriage and adoption by same sex couples.