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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Our First Parents & Biblical Longevity

QUESTION:

My question is quick but I am assuming not simple. In Genesis they mention a lot of people who were born after Adam. Some of these people live 600 plus years. My question is this, was time measured differently back then? I am trying to rationalize how those numbers came to be.

RESPONSE:

How are we to interpret the many years of life attributed to the patriarchs of Genesis?  This question must be discussed in context with the story of creation.  It so challenges credulity, that there are authorities who would reject the inquiry as silly.  Giving preference to evolution over the Genesis narratives, they would argue the entire business is fiction and contend that the numbers only serve symbolic purposes and certainly cannot be real.  We take confidence in God’s sustaining creative power and that we would need a time machine to go back and see for sure about the longevity.  The Church does teach that because of the primordial fall, death enters the world.  This means either that Adam and Eve were initially immortal or that death as we know it did not exist, no more than opening a door and moving from one room to the next where they would continue to see and to live with God forever.  Certain fundamentalists contend that the human lifespan grew shorter after the fall, especially following the deluge that destroyed the known world.  

We must be careful in our approach to such questions, neither to allow our belief in the supernatural to unreservedly color our assumptions or the current atheism to infect and poison confidence that ours is the God of the miraculous. Truth must be upheld and one form of truth complements another:  scientific, religious and philosophical.  Today, many of us are persuaded given the fossil evidence and DNA markers, that God brought forth humanity from lower pre-existing forms of life.  When a proper body was prepared, God infused an immortal soul and we had the first man.  A maxim popular in Catholic circles comes to mind:  “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”  While the Scriptures contain myth and even Genesis has two distinct creation narratives, there are important truths that must not be lost.  God creates everything freely from nothing. 

The creation of the first man and woman signified a decisive moment when self-reflective creatures with souls were called forth to respond in kind to the God who has made them in his own image.  As the stewards of creation they could rightly love God back. God held out to them preternatural gifts left unclaimed and some of the Church fathers believed that the incarnation was imminent where the Lord would join himself to creation.  However, our first parents rebelled against God. 

I often ponder that decisive moment that we call the fall. I can imagine Adam with his wife Eve by his side staring at the sunrise of what should be a new day. Suddenly they have a “eureka moment” and are filled with awe from a divine presence and clear sense of their high calling— seeing with the eyes of the soul something beyond this world.  All they have to do is say YES, just as Mary did at her Annunciation and Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. But it all seems too much to bear.  The devil directs them to turn away— a distraction that breaks the vision. As with the cli·ché, they “cannot see the forest for the trees” or at least for one forbidden tree. They might ponder the gifts of food, drink, pleasure and comfort— but wrongly claim the gifts while neglecting the giver.  It is easier to play the part of the beast.  Eyes that once gazed upward now turn to the ground.  Arms and hands raised in priestly praise to heaven now fall to the earth.  They and their descendants will trod as animals and totter when they seek to stand as men.  Any prospect for the incarnation passes to the future and to a promise made to rebellious children.  God tells them, “You have forgotten me but I have not forgotten you, and I promise, one day I will come searching for you so to bring you home.” Yes, God will enter the human family, not just to unite us to himself but to save us from ourselves and from the devil.        

Did Adam live to be 930 years old?  Did Methuselah live to be 969?  I cannot say.  It is unlikely.  However, God can do as he pleases.  I have an aunt who passed away at 124.  Unless I show the newspaper clippings from when she turned 117, most refuse to believe me and think I am pulling their leg.  It must be admitted that the Semitic people liked playing with numbers and had an elaborate numerology. Even the letters of their alphabet had numeral values.

Whatever the actual ages, the ancient peoples lived long enough to have children and to pass on their stories and their faith.  God would call a people and prepare them for a Messiah who would mend the rift between heaven and earth.  Our Lord Jesus would only live thirty some odd years in this world and his ministry would last a mere three years.  However, in that short time he would accomplish his mission— redeeming us from the devil, raising the dignity of human nature by his participation, and bringing healing and the forgiveness of sins by grace.  After his resurrection, Jesus descends to the dead and drags Adam and Eve by the hair into heaven. 

Sex: Sin or God’s Gift?

COMMENT:

I grew up in a small strict Protestant church. I was taught that sex was a sin— period; and if you did it you were going to hell— period. Our Lady told us that most people go to hell for sins of the flesh. So there you have it. The only other sin of the flesh that I can think of is gluttony. It could be forgiven if you were doing it to have children but you still had to repent. Every time they talked about the unforgivable sin, I knew what they were talking about.

RESPONSE:

You were taught wrong. It is true that there are a few sects that label all sex as sinful; this mentality afflicted Martin Luther who at one point argued that even consensual sex between married spouses was venial sin. Catholics struggled with something of this mentality in the heresy of Jansenism. Let me correct you. God is the author of human sexuality and all that God creates is good. Human sin can corrupt or misdirect a good, but God is never the direct author of evil. Sex between spouses, the marital act, is a holy thing that consummates the marriage and makes possible the creation of new human beings into which God infuses immortal souls. Lust is always a sin but the yearning and intimacy of holy passion makes possible marital fidelity and the family. It is because of the high place given this sacramental act or great mystery that the misuse of sex through abuse, contraception, homosexuality, pedophilia and adultery is so very wrong.

Sex is not the unforgivable sin. Indeed, condemnation of the marital act as sinful might be regarded as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit— just as serious as those who accused Jesus of healing and working miracles through the intervention of demons. It is this blasphemy that is unforgivable for one cannot both embrace and reject the powerful mercy of God. Of course, while there is mortal life, there is hope; at death our state before the Lord becomes fixed.

Where to Find My Online Masses

https://hfchurch.wordpress.com/

How Much Do We Believe in a Second Coming?

Is it okay to pray that this signals the Second Coming? Does that scare anyone? Come Lord Jesus Come!

01. “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many” (Matthew 24:5). Hum, there are plenty of politicians and one in particular that seems to fit that bill. Check.

02. “You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…” (Matthew 24:6-7). Indisputable, we live in a truly divided and dangerous world. Check.

03. “But understand this: there will be terrifying times in the last days. People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power. Reject them” (2 Timothy 3:1-5). This defines the hedonism of contemporary society. Check.

04. “…there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place” (Matthew 24:7). Such events are also in the news. Check.

05. “I looked, and there was a pale green horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him. They were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and plague, and by means of the beasts of the earth” (Revelation 6:8). Does the coronavirus pandemic count as a plague? Check.

06. “When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God” (Revelation 6:9). The Church knows growing persecution by Communist China, a secular West and Islamic terrorism. The martyrs herald the birth of the Church and her final consummation in the Lord. Check.

07. “After the tribulation of those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Matthew 24:29). “The stars in the sky fell to the earth like unripe figs shaken loose from the tree in a strong wind” (Revelation 6:13). Fires in the U.S, in the Amazon and now in Arizona have polluted the atmosphere and blocked the sun’s light. Recently, Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites were launched as a ring of stars in the night sky. This past October we experienced a Blood Moon. Now we have this conjunction of Jupiter and Saturday that was purportedly the Star of Bethlehem that announces the coming of the Messiah. Hum, check!

Virus or no virus, I think we had better seek out the sacrament of penance and reaffirm our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know neither the day nor the hour. He will come like a thief in the night. Let us remain sober and awake, with lamps burning brightly, as sentinels for the Lord!

Are All Who Know About Jesus Saved?

QUESTION:

Today I was in a discussion with a Polish Catholic. She told me that the Catholic Church teaches that someone who is not Catholic (or from any other branch of Christianity) but has heard about Jesus, can go to heaven just because of their good works. As a Protestant, it was a really interesting point. I have talked about the difference with Catholics— about being saved by faith or saved by faith plus works. I am aware of the origin of the Catholic idea and to some extent I would support it, based on the epistle of James. However, what this person said was really weird to me. As a Protestant, we may leave the door open for people who have never heard about Jesus and have the law in their hearts. Those may be saved by living in accordance to the law (i.e. deeds). But we would never apply this to people who have heard about Jesus. Can someone explain this idea and tell me if this is in the Catholic catechism?  Thanks a lot!

RESPONSE:

First, while there is a universal call to salvation we would reject any kind of universalism that presumes that everyone is necessarily saved.  As much as we might want it otherwise, there is ample Scriptural evidence that hell is real.  Indeed, such makes room for the misuse of human freedom and for the imposition of divine justice.  Second, salvation is a gift that apart from Christ we could not earn or merit.  No one deserves heaven.  Third, while St. Augustine will speak of a predestination to glory, it is difficult in this world to know as to which city we belong.  The many names of the elect are only known by almighty God.    

This is the basic soteriological question:  “Can someone who is not a Catholic and/or a Christian be saved?”  Similar to the notion you mention as a Protestant of “leaving a door open” for good people who do not know the Lord, we would refrain as Catholics from saying in a particular fashion who might be damned.  While the Lord is a just judge, he is also infinitely merciful.  Knowing our place, we would refrain from telling God his business.  God saves whomever he wills to save.  The catechism stipulates, going back to ancient days before there were any Protestant churches and the East and West were still one that ‘there is no salvation outside the Church.”  This is connected to the teaching that there is no other way to the Father except through Jesus Christ. The Church is defined as the mystical body of Christ.  We read in Colossians 1:18:  “He is the head of the body, the church.”  (Note also that when the apostle Paul encounters the Lord and is struck blind, he becomes aware that to persecute the Church is to attack Christ.)  Thus, Catholics will refer both to Christ and the Church as “the way.”  Pope Benedict XVI clarified that there is one covenant between the Jews and Christians and that it is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  Any who would find themselves in heaven will have to thank Christ as our one Mediator and Lord.  Many non-Christian critics do not like this view, but it is a root dogma for all true Christianity.  Either the redemptive passion and Cross of Jesus is essential or it is meaningless and our Lord is a fraud. 

While the saving work of Christ is imperative, we must be disposed to the graces of God.  The more one knows the more one will be held accountable.  If a person knows that Jesus is Lord and that he directly instituted the Catholic Church as the great sacrament of his mercy and reconciliation then he or she must enter the Church to be saved.  Indeed, when we celebrate the Eucharist, congregants are asked to spiritually join themselves to Christ so that we might offer ourselves to the Father as one acceptable sacrifice.  This is the core of our worship.  Our participation at Calvary is not entirely passive. How God will judge ignorance is not for us to know.  We cannot read individual souls.  Does faith and baptismal create at least a tenuous attachment to the Church?  Would the Lord reject any who love him even though they should be bias or unaware about the nature of the Church?  Certainly the Catholic Church intercedes in her worship and prayer for those who are formally outside her ranks— might this have value?  What does it mean to know Jesus?  I suspect that some reduce this to merely be aware of his name and yet he is so much more.

A woman came to me years ago to take classes for baptism and entry into the Church because she wanted to share the faith of her husband.  It was during the process of that formation that she came to know Jesus both as her “personal” and as “our communal” Savior.  At the beginning, when I asked her about Jesus, all she knew was that “he was a nice man.”  She had yet to appreciate that he was the Word made flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity and God come among us.  A “nice man” did not cut it— not enough.  She had yet to really know the full truth about Jesus.

I should add something about saving faith as well.  Not only in James but in the Gospels themselves it is made clear that faith is more than words or even a mental dedication.  Faith must be realized by an attitude of loving obedience.  That is why our Lord becomes angry that religious leaders have neglected the spirit of the law.  He emphasizes this spirit by speaking of the twofold commandment of love, first to God and then as a love that cannot be contained and overflows upon neighbor.  John will also speak about this saying that if we say we love God but hate our brother then we are a liar. Faith is defined as both knowing the Lord and loving him.  This love is affirmed, not through empty works, but through works of charity.  There is a big difference.  What the Lord does always has value.  We invite the Lord in love to live and work through us.  Jesus warns his listeners.  Read Matthew 7: 21-23:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’”

Catholics believe that while faith might only be apparent and false, it can also start off as authentic and later sour.  This is why the apostle Paul speaks so about staying the course or running the race to receive the crown.  We must remain steadfast in faith. The witness of Judas and Peter is always before us.  Both were called to be apostles and both betrayed the Lord.  Judas despairs and dies.  Peter repents and tells the resurrected Jesus three times on the beach, “I love you.”  He is healed and restored to his visible headship.  There are three things that last.  We abide in the HOPE of our salvation in this world.  We are to encounter and claim Christ by FAITH in our pilgrimage to the gates of the heavenly kingdom.  However, hope will be realized and faith will be replaced by an intimate knowing when we see God in the beatific vision.  It is only LOVE that enters with us into heaven and it is in this divine LOVE that we will abide with the saints and the Lord forever.  Peace!

Cohabitation & Reception of Holy Communion

QUESTION:

I am an 18 year old Catholic.  I got pregnant early this year and gave birth outside of wedlock.  Because I live with the father of my baby outside of marriage, can I receive the Holy Communion?

RESPONSE:

First, while I cannot approve of sin I want to affirm your decision to keep your child and to give birth.  Second, while I can appreciate the emotional and material reasons for cohabitation, the failure to get married is problematical.  Third, if there are the makings of spousal love with the genuine desire and the ability to sustain a family, I would urge the two of you to speak to a priest about getting married in the Church.  However, only the two of you as a couple can determine if this relationship has what it takes to make a life-long and faithful marriage.  You are very young and I cannot gauge your maturity. Further, you say nothing about the man with whom you live. Is he single? Are we talking about fornication or adultery?  While there is some discussion about the status of couples in irregular unions and the reception of sacraments, the usual answer is that such couples should refrain from reception given that they are apparently living in mortal sin.  Sexual intercourse and cohabitation outside of marriage is a grievous moral wrong.  A person in serious sin is not disposed to the graces of the Eucharist.  Indeed, it brings down God’s judgment in terms of scandal and blasphemy. 

Whatever else, contact the priest for the child’s sake so that you might have the baby baptized and then brought up in the Catholic faith.  Peace!  

Financially Boycotting Companies

COMMENT & QUESTION:

I feel very upset because of the legalization of the killing of our unborn children. I know that some businesses and stores support Planned Parenthood and I try not to buy from them; however, (because I am a selfish person) I sometimes want out of convenience to shop in these places. Would it be wrong to do so?

RESPONSE:

I suspect that it would be almost impossible to avoid all sorts of establishments. I think the effort to confront them on the level of the wallet is notable but such exclusion would not be absolutely binding. So you might patronize certain stores because of necessity. Know also that many companies and organizations do not advertise their support for PP or for other organizations engaged in these or other egregious wrongs.

Oblivion over Hell?

INQUIRY & COMMENTS:

I need your guidance and help.  I have a selfish doubt that lingers in my mind. I know it’s wrong but I’m scared of the thought because it lingers and can cause damage to my mind. Over the past few months I have found God in my life and I’m learning every day.  Still sometimes but not constantly, I wish religion were not real so that good people without faith might not have to suffer eternity in hell. It makes me feel depressed that I have loved ones who are atheists and thus may have to suffer this fate one day.  I fear it potentially for myself as well. I have repented of my past sins and I am living my life now by God’s word, but I am still scared at the thought of hell. It may be a wrong and selfish thought, but has anyone ever battled something similar? How did you help them through it?

It is not that I am rejecting the idea of God and his religion. I love God and the amazing things he has done for the world.  I just sometimes think it would be a relief if there were nothing and thus no one would suffer after death. Could you please clarify if I am sinning by having this thought? If I am, what sin is it?  I need to know so as to work through it. 

RESPONSE:

You say that you are not rejecting the “idea” of God but that you love him.  An argument for God’s existence and the notion of a deity will (in itself) save no one.  We are called to a relationship with the “person” of God and this is defined as a bond of love.  Saving faith in Jesus Christ is measured by charitable obedience or fidelity.  The proclamation of the Good News is an important part of our commission as believers.  Hopefully those who hear this testimony and see our witness will be disposed to know and to love and to serve the Lord.  Salvation is a mystery within God’s providence and we must trust to his will and plan for each of us.  If there be any sin or weakness of faith to what you attest it is in respects to this trust or confidence.  The prospect of nothing beyond the grave might be preferred by those who are wicked and mistreat others; however, the lack of a heavenly reward would be unjust for those who have taken up their crosses to follow Jesus.  Many have sacrificed everything for the Gospel.  Many good people through no fault of their own have known great pain and sickness in this world.  The prospect of heaven is held out by a good God to let us know that he is just and has not forgotten his own. 

Where are We Going with Same-Sex Unions?

What Did the Pope Say?

“Lo que tenemos que crear es una ley de unión civil. De esa manera, están legalmente cubiertas.”

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way, they are legally covered.”

“La gente homosexual tiene derecho a estar en una familia. Son hijos de Dios y tienen derecho a una familia. Nadie debería ser expulsado o sentirse miserable por ello.”

“Gay people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God and have the right to a family. No one should be expelled or (made to) feel miserable about it.”

While we have long known that Pope Francis personally favored same-sex “civil unions” as an alternative to same-sex “marriages,” the recent citation in a documentary may force a change in praxis from the 2003 Vatican document that prohibited both. The pending matter here is not academic. Prudential judgment must not include an inner contradiction that ratifies or excuses mortal sin.  This is why I am of the opinion that such distinctions between labels are euphemistic; however, it is possible that a “tertium quid” might later be fashioned that would technically be permissible within the framework of Catholic doctrine, i.e. a publicly endorsed brotherly or sisterly union over one that denotes a genital-sexual bond.

It must be acknowledged that such a “third thing” or way would never find positive acceptance from organizations like New Ways Ministry or Dignity which promote as positive the exercise of intimate homosexual or lesbian relations.  Indeed, the latter organization goes to the extreme of excusing casual fornication.

What might be the eminent ramifications from all this sensationalism?

If gay relationships are to be judged as familial with all the associated rights, can Church authorities deny “spousal benefits” to gay partners?  Would we acknowledge formal rights to property ownership and inheritance?  Would our Catholic hospitals grant them the authority to make medical decisions for one another?  Can we continue to fire staff, as with musicians and teachers, who come out publicly as in same-sex bonds? 

Several years ago Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington and elsewhere (like Boston) terminated adoption services because changes in civil law required that we give consideration to grant orphaned children to same-sex couples.  It was the beginning of a fight over the Church’s “religious liberty.”  We argued that children had a right to a mother and a father.

While biblical and longstanding morality in the Church would target intimate homosexual acts as sinful; would the Church be able to bless unions and regularize couples who pledge a “particular” but “celibate” love for each other?  Is this practically feasible and if so, would they be placed under any greater scrutiny than married men and women who sometimes commit wrongful acts and bring them to the sacrament of penance?

The Meaning of Marriage & Love is Already Compromised 

Most of our religious and priests are heterosexual men and women who love the Lord and others but have chosen not to pursue erotic love or any form of genital affection.  This may be a teaching moment for a society that wrongly and immediately equates love with lust.  Many of our heterosexual marriages fail because of such confusion and immaturity.  Love inherently demands self-discipline and sacrifice.  Love is not about narcissism or manipulation.  The loving Christian, gay or straight, should look upon the beloved as one to nurture and protect.  As believers we would logically want those near to us to walk with the Lord and to be in a state of grace or holy. Any who would draw a partner into sin do not really love as they should.  Pope Francis speaks a great deal about accompaniment.  As always, this implies that we are all going in the same direction— toward the kingdom of heaven. 

What Can We Tolerate & What Can We Change?

The terms of salvation come from the sources of revelation:  Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.  Politicians can change civil laws and popes can interpret the font of revelation; however, neither can rewrite what is right or wrong.  It is given to us by God.  Both divine-positive laws and natural laws remain binding and beyond our control.  We can legalize prostitution but we cannot make it right or neutral.  We can tolerate pharmacists selling condoms but we cannot condone their use.  We can allow the evil of divorce and interact with the courts in our annulment procedures, but we cannot turn a blind eye to adultery.  Our obligation as believers is to find positive ways of relating to one another and living according to divine providence. 

It is true that the Church must sometimes adapt her social and moral teachings to the current situation of a culture or society.  It is also true that there can be an organic development of doctrine as there was about slavery and possibly about capital punishment. However, such developments about the dignity of persons and the sanctity of life imply no explicit reversal of a commandment or the transposition of a vice or sin into a virtue.    

Not Conservatism But Rather What Does Orthodoxy Have to Say?

We must throughout the current debate take seriously the voices of shepherds on both sides of the divide, but particularly those who speak from the tradition.  Among these is Cardinal Raymond Burke who writes:

“It is a source of deepest sadness and pressing pastoral concern that the private opinions reported with so much emphasis by the press and attributed to Pope Francis do not correspond to the constant teaching of the Church, as it is expressed in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and is guarded, protected and interpreted by the Magisterium. Equally sad and concerning is the turmoil, confusion, and error they cause among the Catholic faithful, as is the scandal they cause, in general, by giving the totally false impression that the Catholic Church has had a change of course, that is, has changed its perennial teaching regarding such fundamental and critical questions.” 

Another shepherd weighing in is Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island who states: 

“The Holy Father’s apparent support for the recognition of civil unions for same-sex couples needs to be clarified. The Pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the Church about same-sex unions. The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and must have their personal human rights and civil rights recognized and protected by law. However, the legalization of their civil unions, which seek to simulate holy matrimony, is not admissible.”

At face-value, it is as he says it is.  Such a matter is not judged on the same level as abortion or the murder of children which is a non-negotiable within the moral order; however, it is important as it breaches dialogue about the nature of marriage and family— the basic building block of a healthy society.  It is in the family where we develop a sense of identity— learning our prayers and first encountering Christ and finding witnessed the values that we will take with us into adulthood.   

What Constitutes Parents & a Family?

The Holy Father has previously sided with the argument that both a mother and a father are necessary in the home.  But because of divorce, death and abandonment this is often not possible. While the young should be raised in a household that witnesses the faith; it must be admitted that there are many homes with parents of two genders that suffer from abuse and dysfunction in communication.  The ideal can be hard to live out.  Further, have we not been forced already to rethink the definition of family when children are raised by one parent or by grandparents or an older sibling?  Regularly in the news are reports of great distress because illegal immigrant parents have been forcibly separated from their children.  No matter what side of the divide one might be on the question of border control and sovereignty, this touches the hearts of all decent people.  By contrast to the matter of this posting, why is this real threat to family life ignored or minimized? When it comes to the possibility of same-sex guardians we may have to give them the benefit of a doubt.  Might Uncle Ben and Uncle Jerry be able to raise a child and teach him his prayers?  Might Aunt Susie and Aunt Jenny be faithful at Mass and with insuring the faith formation of little ones?  Might they be capable of loving, providing for and protecting a child— from any and all who would take advantage of him or her? 

Alas, the scandal of errant clergy has forfeited much in the way of the Church’s moral authority so as to interact on such questions.

Civil Unions for Gays?

Previously unreleased papal comments aired in the documentary “Francesco,” included those from a 2019 interview that endorsed same-sex civil unions.  We know that as archbishop of Buenos Aires prior to his elevation to the papacy he did endorse civil unions of same-sex couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. First echoing previous Church assertions about respecting homosexuals as “children of God,” he then states: “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this.  What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

The official 2019 Vatican transcript of the interview expunged the comments about such legal safeguards for civil unions.  While this opinion is arguably in the area of praxis it may have ramifications regarding to the transmission of moral truth.  The universal catechism teaches that “homosexual acts” are “intrinsically disordered.”  This has not changed. The Maryland Catholic Conference ran a major campaign against both same-sex marriages and legal civil unions.  It was argued as a danger to any consensus about the nature of marriage as an intimate relationship between a man and woman geared towards the transmission of new human life.  I remember offering the critique that the bishops and the “institutional” Church only became engaged in the defense of marriage at a time when gays wanted it and heterosexual couples were increasing cohabitating without it.  What the Church leadership failed to appreciate was that marriage was in trouble long before gays wanted inclusion, particularly through the blight of fornication, adultery and easy divorce and remarriage.  The leadership came to its defense too late to make any appreciable difference or to head off the momentum of a revolutionary atheistic secular-humanist morality.  Not only was the top off of any Pandora’s Box but all the proverbial evils had long since escaped.         

Many gays treat with disdain and suspicion the Church’s contention that they must be loved and treated with dignity and respect even as homosexual acts are condemned as sinful.  Frequently today, they demand acceptance, not just toleration.  Indeed, some clearly articulate as hypocrisy the assertion that one might “love the sinner but hate the sin.”  What this means is that homosexuality has become the chief marker in how they identify themselves as persons.  This should not surprise us as Western society itself has become increasing eroticized in its world view and resistant to any virtues of modesty, chastity, prudence or self-control.

The statement by Pope Francis would seem to conflict with the official line established by the Vatican in 2003 where the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (under Cardinal Ratzinger/later Pope Benedict XVI) stipulated that respect for homosexuals “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”  We tell heterosexual couples that civil unions without the sacrament of the Church are grievously sinful and are both invalid and illicit bonds.  How can we discourage civil bonds for the unions of men and women outside the Church but encourage and support them for homosexual couples?  Reflecting upon the Holy Father’s statement, it may be that he simply wanted to commend or support genuine love where ever it is found and a more embracive sense of family— under the civil protections of society’s laws— apart or segregated from human sexuality and possible deviancy.  If such is the case, then he would be proposing a civil union not as equivalence to marriage between men and women but as a civil and possibly spiritual adoption as brothers and sisters.  In order to receive the blessing of the Church, such couples would need to pledge perpetual lives of purity, chastity and celibacy.