Catholic Church

Filipino bishops defend Pope over same-sex civil unions

Paterno Esmaquel II
Filipino bishops defend Pope over same-sex civil unions
'He just wants to do as Jesus himself did,' declares the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, as critics blast Pope Francis

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) defended Pope Francis on Monday, October 26, after critics blasted him for appearing to support same-sex civil unions in a spliced but recently revived 2019 interview.

Breaking its silence, the CBCP said the Pope asserts traditional church teaching on marriage and family, but “refuses to reject those who are unable to enter into marriage and build family because of circumstances in their lives.”

The CBCP quoted a 2018 interview where the Pope said marriage “has always been between a man and a woman” and that “one cannot change that” – even as the Pope showed “pastoral care” toward homosexuals since the time he was Buenos Aires archbishop.

“He is not out to destroy our morals and orthodoxy. He just wants to do as Jesus himself did. He valued being kind and compassionate more than being right and righteous,” said Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, acting president of the CBCP, in a statement released on Monday.

An internationally trained Bible scholar, David explained that the Pope “is aware of the extent of the bullying, rejection, and exclusion that many homosexuals normally go through.”

“He personally knew because he had dared to extend pastoral care to people like them when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. When the move to legalize same-sex marriage became very popular in Argentina, despite his sympathy for homosexuals, he stood his ground,” David pointed out.

“Later he would look back and say in an interview with the French sociologist Dominique Wolton on April 23, 2018: ‘What to think of marriage of persons of the same sex? The word marriage is a historical word. Ever since, in humanity and not only in the Church, it has always been between a man and a woman. One cannot change that; it is the nature of things. This is how they are.’ And so he suggests, ‘Let’s call them civil unions. Let’s not play with the truth,'” the Filipino bishop added, quoting the Pope.

The Pope’s remarks on same-sex civil unions made headlines after it was included in the documentary Francesco, which premiered October 21. His quotes later turned out to be spliced from a 2019 interview with Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, and had not been intended to change church doctrine.

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The Vatican, however, has not officially confirmed or denied the Pope’s remarks in his 2019 interview, prompting veteran Vatican analyst John Allen to comment, “No matter who breaks it, if you don’t fix it you bought it.”

The remarks of Francis have, therefore, created a firestorm in the Catholic world, especially among conservatives longed incensed by the unorthodox ways of the first Jesuit pope.

Retired Filipino bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon even told reporters, as quoted by the Associated Press: “This is a shocking statement coming from the pope…. I am really scandalized by his defense of homosexual union, which surely leads to immoral acts.”

The CBCP, in contrast, on Monday made explicit its support for the Pope. After all, in the world’s oldest bureaucracy that is the Catholic Church, no individual can refuse allegiance to the Pope without ceasing to be a member. On top of this, Filipino bishops have personally been fond of Francis, who visited the Philippines in January 2015, because of his pro-poor stance.

The Pope has likewise been close to Filipino prelates like Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who is now a top official at the Vatican. Priestly backgrounds also come into play, as Tagle and David, like the Pope, were trained by the Jesuits – a 480-year-old religious order that has stirred controversy for unconventional ways of spreading the Catholic faith.  – Rappler.com

Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.