Voices have been demanding that Pope Francis clarify “his statement” about same-sex civil unions after global news quoted a mere four phrases from a videotaped interview which took place in 2019.
The Vatican has now spoken.
The interview in question quoted responses to two separate questions which were not produced for the film, Francesco. Neither was the interview undertaken in the presence of the film’s director Evgeny Afineevsky. It was taken rather from footage attained by journalist Valentina Alazraki for Mexico’s Televisa network.
The explanatory note sent by the Vatican Secretariat of State to all Vatican diplomats makes it clear that comments made by the Pope in the 2019 interview were “edited and published as a single answer without the necessary contextualization”. A perfect example of media manipulation, or “fake news” as we are now accustomed to hearing and reading.
A Vatican official has also clarified that Afineevsky was never granted an on-camera interview with Pope Francis.
Out of what appears to be a selfish desire to draw global attention to his film, as most directors understandably would do, Afineevsky glued together three clips from the Televisa interview and set about manipulating the entire world into believing that Francis himself had made a calculated “statement” on gay relationships which said: “They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”
Afineevsky’s decision left baying crowds demanding Francis clarify the words his mouth did physically say, as opposed to what he was grossly misquoted as having said. This calculated action placed Francis into an almost impossible situation on two levels: timing and content.
Regarding timing: if Francis had immediately clarified “the statement” which he never originally made, the film director would have drawn the Pontiff into a debate which Francis never desired or created. The director would then have been leading the Pope.
For Francis to remain silent, which he has done for several weeks, and which has cost him dearly in criticism from both inside and outside of the Church, has made people believe that he agrees and endorses what Afineevsky has deliberately misquoted. And yet this is not true.
Regarding content: if Francis were to enter into any public debate on matters relating to human sexuality, he would run the risk of again being misquoted and used to further the deliberate agenda of LGBTQ+ ideologues, not too unlike the phrase “who am I to judge?” which continues to be taken out of context.
If the content of any public response was not seen as wholly endorsing what have always been regarded as sinful relationships, then the LGBTQ+ communities would increase their vilification and hate-speech against the Church and the Pope himself to a greater level.
The silence of the past few weeks and the release of a private explanatory note to Vatican officials alone are wise moves in the right direction by the Pope and the Vatican.
What does this global debacle tell us about the relationship between the mainstream media and the Church? When it comes to the media, the consumer would do well to further investigate what is beneath and beyond any given story.
I am reminded that, during my six-years spent working with press and media in the private office of Cardinal Archbishops of Westminster, one story rose above many others where the cardinal was grossly misrepresented by mainstream media in the same way that is regularly happening to Francis today.
Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor had delivered an upbeat, hope-filled lecture to the England and Wales’ National Council of Priests. A leading broadsheet journalist questioned him afterwards about whether Christianity was truly any longer relevant to an increasingly secular Britain. His response was words to the effect that: “I read in a book while traveling [to the council gathering] that Christianity is nearly vanquished. But in Britain, I wholeheartedly do not believe that is so.”
The main headline splashed across the front page of national papers the following day, and international papers the day after, were the words: “Christianity ‘is nearly vanquished’ in Britain.” Did the late-Cardinal’s mouth utter these words? Yes. But the opposite of what was reported was in fact true.
The headlines grabbed readers’ attention and created numerous debates. A planned and successful win for the media. The response to believers’ anger at what the Cardinal was reported to have said was to read what he had actually said in writing.
Mainstream media now regularly misleads the consumer by quoting out of context so that people misunderstand what is really happening.
When it comes to the Church — referring to those who see themselves as Christians rather than to ecclesial authorities — it is important to always first return to the Bible and the Magisterium.
Civil authorities make social boundaries clear through legislation. Ecclesial authorities — and particularly the Pontiff — make spiritual boundaries clear through the Magisterium, or the Church’s teaching. This is the official locus Catholics are to refer to. For clarity about Francis’s opinions about same-sex civil unions, the Magisterium is the starting and finishing line.
What has Francis officially said about same-sex civil unions that the media has failed to quote?
In his 2016 Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Lætitia, Francis said:
Only the exclusive and indissoluble union between a man and a woman has a plenary role to play in society as a stable commitment that bears fruit in new life. We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage. No union that is temporary or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society. (AL, §52)
…as for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family. It is unacceptable “that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish “marriage” between persons of the same sex (AL, §251) [author’s highlights]
At no point has Francis reneged on what he wrote above.
The City of Buenos Aires introduced same-sex civil unions in 2002. The Church had no say in this. But Bergoglio, ever-inclusive and yet firm on the truth, saw his government’s celebration of equality still contained inequality for many.
From this injustice, he spoke out for the legal recognition of other non-sexual civil unions, particularly for those who were not extended partner rights where hospital visitations, inheritance rights, etc, were concerned. Bergoglio merely showed up aspects of civil exclusion which his local government were proudly parading as social inclusion. Even then Francis showed himself to be a fighter for true inclusivity and equality without diminishing the Gospel.
So, is Pope Francis pro-LGBTQ+? Pro-LGBTQ+ people, yes, without hesitation. His respect and compassion for those who struggle with any aspect of sexual attraction remains undiminished. Is he pro-LGBTQ+ ideology and the sexual practice of non-covenanted heterosexuality? No.
Media consumers would do well to remember that perspective is everything.
I nervously write today from the cumulative perspectives of seeing the world through the eyes of a former gay activist, as a convert to Catholicism who has wrangled with every detail of the Magisterium, as a former Vatican employee and director of press and media for several cardinal archbishops, and as someone who now brushes daily alongside the lives of those who are gender questioning or who experience anything other than heterosexual attractions. And yet I must still remind myself to keep an open mind to uncovering more behind any given story.
To those who demanded clarity, you now have it afresh, although nothing new has been declared.
The Secretariat of State’s note is adamant: “It is clear that Pope Francis was referring to particular State regulations, certainly not the doctrine of the church, which he has reaffirmed numerous times over the years.”