After Pope Francis' civil union remarks, archbishop recalls Argentina's civil unions debate

Obispos Daniel Ibanez ACI 281020 Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

After remarks in a newly-released documentary from Pope Francis on civil unions, the archbishop emeritus of La Plata, Argentina, has offered his recollection of a 2010 debate on civil unions which took place within the Argentine bishops' conference, while the country's legislature was preparing to approve a same-sex marriage bill.

In comments sent to ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner, Archbishop Héctor Aguer noted that "the recent statement by the Supreme Pontiff promoting civil unions between people of the same sex caused a stir, in the Church and outside of it; i.e., proposing that they be granted a legal framework."

The archbishop referred to comments published in "Francesco," a documentary that premiered in Rome last week, in which Pope Francis was seen to call for civil unions legislation. The pope's previously unpublished remarks were found to have come from a 2019 interview conducted by Mexican television network Televisa.

It has since been widely reported that Pope Francis supported the idea of civil unions legislation while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, as a compromise during the 2010 debate in Argentina over same-sex marriage.

Last week, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, the current Archbishop of La Plata, posted on Facebook that "What the pope has said on this subject is what he also maintained when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires."

The archbishop added that before he became pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio "always recognized that, without calling it 'marriage,' in fact there are very close unions between people of the same sex, which do not in themselves imply sexual relations, but a very intense and stable alliance."

"This can be contemplated in the law and is called 'civil union' [unión civil] or 'law of civil coexistence' [ley de convivencia civil], not marriage," Fernandez wrote.

Archbishop Aguer, who led the Archdiocese of La Plata from 2000 to 2018, recalled the 2010 debate about civil unions.

"Cardinal Bergoglio, then being the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, proposed in a plenary assembly of the Argentine bishops' conference to support the legality of civil unions of homosexual persons by the state, as a possible alternative to what was called - and is called - 'marriage equality.'"

"At that time, the argument against him was that it was not a merely political or sociological question, but that it involved a moral judgment; consequently, the sanction of civil laws contrary to the natural order cannot be promoted. It was also noted that this teaching has been repeatedly stated in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The plenary of the Argentine bishops rejected that proposal and voted against it," Aguer said.

The archbishop added that "in 2003 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared that 'respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.' It's not unreasonable to think that such unions, to which it is proposed to grant legal recognition, are not 'platonic'; therefore, it would be implicitly approving the coverage of homosexual activity in the law."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that those who identify as LGBT "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."

The Catechism elaborates that homosexual inclinations are "objectively disordered," homosexual acts are "contrary to the natural law," and those who identify as lesbian and gay, like all people, are called to the virtue of chastity, and called to holiness.

The archbishop said that in his view, the Catechism proposes "a path of spiritual improvement oriented towards the achievement of chastity, through the practice of 'the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom,' prayer and sacramental grace."

For Aguer, "the ecclesiastical approval of 'civil unions' would bring on the de-Christianization and dehumanization of society."

The archbishop affirmed his respect for the pope, but said that in his view, the pope's remarks in a documentary "do not have a magisterial character."

"I compare it with the conversations that the popes have during their trips with journalists in the plane's passageway; They may be interesting, but they lack the specifications that are proper to a magisterial genre; although issued by a relevant personality, they are no more than private opinions."

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In addition, Aguer said, "in the case of a matter on which there is certain Catholic teaching, if the Holy Father had the intention of introducing a change, the reasonable thing is to maintain that he would expressly state it with authority and good arguments."

The archbishop warned against a tendency he called "Pope-olatry," among some Catholics, saying it "is not healthy behavior." He noted that "the initial repercussions" to the pope's words "already caused contrasting reactions, which raises fears of a widening of divisions among the faithful, a deepening of the ecclesial 'rift' which undeniably exists."

"I hope that theologians, cardinals and bishops with greater wisdom and authority than I, will bring some light to these dark moments," he said.

For Aguer, "it's very painful to think of the spiritual damage the faithful who suffer due to their disorderly inclination will suffer if the Church should back the recognition of civil unions, sanctioned by the state as a right to have a family; this would place an obstacle to the possible healing process described in the Catechism."

"Because the mercy of the truth is owed to these persons," he said.

The archbishop urged Catholics to prayer, and urged them to "hope, which lights up suns in our night."

A version of this story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA's Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.

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