Pope Francis has given his support to same-sex civil unions, declaring that 'homosexual people have a right to be in a family'.
The Pope makes the unprecedented comments in a new film documenting his life. Francis, the Roman Catholic Church's 266th leader, says: "[LGBT+ people] are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or made to feel miserable about it".
The Roman Catholic Church, which has over 1.2 billion followers and is the oldest continually-functioning institution on the planet, is well-known for it's condemnation of homosexuality. The Catechism, which outlines the Church's position on a number of moral issues, describes homosexual sex as "intrinsically disordered", "contrary to the natural law" and an "act of grave depravity". Most significantly, the Catechism asserts that "under no circumstances can [homosexual acts] be approved".
The Church has traditionally called LGBT+ people to chastity, urging them to see their same-sex attraction as a 'trial'. Pope Francis' comments, therefore, represent a significant progression in the Vatican's approach to LGBT+ rights. By endorsing a 'civil union law', Francis is arguably relaxing the Churches opposition to homosexual relationships. Whilst this does not necessarily contradict the Catechism's declaration of homosexual acts as 'intrinsically disordered', it does suggest that Francis is at least prepared to acknowledge the existence, and value, of same-sex relationships.
The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) asserted in 2003 that 'respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions'. Seventeen years later, it appears that the latter part of this declaration may be under review. Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Vatican has taken a slightly more liberal stance of homosexuality, whilst still retaining a doctrinal opposition to homosexual acts. Francis captured headlines when he told a journalist; "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, then who am I to judge?"
So what are we to make of the Pontiff's latest comments on homosexuality? Whilst they do not suggest any doctrinal change is imminent, they ought to be welcomed by those of us campaigning for LGBT+ rights. The Catholic Church remains one of the most influential and powerful institutions in the world, and the Pope's public endorsement of homosexual 'civil unions' is very promising indeed. It acknowledges the validity and value of same-sex unions, providing LGBT+ couples with the respect and recognition that they deserve.
In 2015, the strongly Roman Catholic Republic of Ireland voted to legalise gay marriage. This was an extraordinary breakthrough moment, which revealed Whilst the Vatican is not ready to endorse gay marriage yet, things are certainly moving in the right direction. As society becomes more accepting and inclusive, the Church finally appears to be following suit. Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Catholic Church has the potential to become a welcoming, inclusive and loving institution. These latest comments are very small steps, but at least they are steps in the right direction.
When the Pope speaks, people listen. Very few institutions hold as much influence as the Vatican, even in an increasingly secularised world. With homosexuality still illegal in 70 countries worldwide, these comments have the power to make a very positive difference. This is therefore a moment of celebration for all those who care about LGBT+ rights and issues. Whilst the Church still has a long way to go, these comments are at least a very positive step in a very positive direction.