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Pope Francis described gay world as “children of God” in a recently released documentary, “Francesco.” he further listed that “a polite union law” requirements to be produced so gays room “legally covered.” The Vatican later shown the pope’s comments, however clarified that the church doctrine stayed unchanged.

Public support for civil unions native Pope Francis is not totally new. When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, and also again in a 2014 interview, that spoke about civil unions for same-sex couples.

While the Vatican is right in saying the church doctrine remains the same, as a theologian who has actually been writing around Catholicism and also family for over two decades, I view in the pope’s comments evidence that Catholic knowledge of that counts as household is evolving.

From referee to mercy

Traditional Catholic theory holds the marriage in between a man and also a mrs is the structure of the family. Sex exterior of marriage is judged to be immoral and, if gay human being are not checked out as naturally sinful, their sex-related actions are. Same-sex marriages and civil unions, the Vatican says, are harmful to society and “in no way similar” come heterosexual marriages.

Yet in his comments made publicly on Oct. 21, the pope framed his support for civil unions in the paper definition of family. “They’re kids of God and have a ideal to a family. Nobody must be thrown out or it is in made miserable since of it,” he said in a news-breaking interview supplied in the documentary.

In researching because that a book on Pope Francis, I found that he has consistently available compassion for Catholics without timeless families. Soon after becoming pope in 2013, in response to a journalist’s question about a happy person, the famously said, “Who am i to judge?”

Mercy over judgment has actually been the mark of his papacy. The pope’s priority on expanding mercy, theologian Cardinal Walter Kasper explains, especially involves families.

Surveys i was delegated by the Vatican in 2015 discovered that Catholics desire more acceptance native the church for world who are solitary parents, divorce or have actually live-in relationships. Discovering that people often feeling judged because their families aren’t perfect, Francis has actually tried to make them feeling welcome. He has stressed that the doors that churches have to be open to all.

When, in mentioning same-sex polite unions, Francis stated that gay people have “a best to a family,” he appears to have actually implied that civil unions produce a family. Despite he is not changing Catholic ethical teaching, i argue the he is departing from classic Catholic rhetoric ~ above the family and also offering an inclusive, merciful vision to guide church practice.

From family members structure to family members action

Changes in Catholic teaching in the 20th century led the means for Francis’ recent moves.

In a 1930 Vatican document on marriage, Pope Pius XI safeguarded the timeless family structure versus perceived risks of cohabitation, divorce and also “false teachers” that asserted the equality of men and also women.

Three years later, in ~ Vatican II, a meeting of the world’s bishops native 1962 come 1965 that resulted in sweeping revolutionary in the Catholic Church, emphasis shifted to the function families could play in shaping society. Marital relationship was identified as an “intimate cooperation of life and also love,” and also the family members was praised as “a school of depths humanity” where parents and also children learn how to be far better human beings.


Pope man Paul II. AP photograph

Pope man Paul II, that was pope from 1978 come 2005, is regularly viewed as a silver paper to Pope Francis. In his writings, he safeguarded heterosexual marriage and traditional gender roles, and also rules against divorce, contraception and also same-sex relationships. Yet the previous pope added to moving the Catholic conversation to moral actions family members can take.

In this regard, man Paul II’s many important paper on the household Familiaris Consortio, 1981, gave family members four tasks: cultivation in love, increasing children, contributing to culture and praying in their home. The taught the being a family way engaging in actions pertained to these tasks.

Catholic scholars choose Mary Doyle Roche have due to the fact that built top top his framework to urge households to become “schools the solidarity” in i beg your pardon parents and also children learn compassion for others.

Though same-sex couples stay excluded from official Catholic teaching, Catholic theologians such together Margaret A. Farley have said that this families, too, can prioritize love, social activity and spirituality. Happy couples, she argued, “deserve the same defense under the law” as heterosexual couples. They likewise have the same moral obligations to every other and to the typical good.

Pope Francis top top inclusion

Pope Francis developed on work done in ~ Vatican II and the years following it. One of his favorite methods of explicate the church is as a “field hospital” that goes where world are hurting.

Though he has addressed many important social issues during his papacy, including financial inequality and also climate change, he referred to as the world bishops to special meetings in Rome just to talk about families. He urged them to find an innovative ways the ministering to people who feeling excluded since they room not life in line through Catholic theory on marriage.

Themes that welcome and also inclusion for solitary parents, divorced and remarried people and also cohabiting unmarried couples were intensified in the paper Francis wrote in 2016, “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The delight of Love.”

For instance, theologian mar Catherine O"Reilly-Gindhart watch Francis saying that cohabiting unmarried couples “need to it is in welcomed and guided patiently and also discreetly.” This enables priests to accomplish couples where they are rather than shaming castle or forcing them to hide their living situations.

What’s the future of the church?

Francis’ critics concern that the pope is watering under Catholic doctrine on marriage and also family. But what i argue is that Francis is not transforming doctrine. The is encouraging a more comprehensive view of that counts as family members inside and outside the church.

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In the same documentary in which Francis made his remarks top top same-sex polite unions, he additionally criticized nations with too many restrictive immigrant policies, saying, “It’s cruelty, and separating parental from children goes against natural rights.” He to be referring come the appropriate to family, which “exists prior to the State or any kind of other community.”

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The comments in the documentary display a persistent relocate toward welcoming households in modern Catholic thought. Francis proposes the a welcoming church must support all families, especially those who are hurting. Similarly, together he says, governments should do the same – including supporting gay and lesbian couples.


Jesuit college of Theology of Santa Clara college is a member the the association of Theological Schools