DENVER (KDVR) — Catholics around the world are analyzing a big shift in rhetoric from the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis voiced his support for civil unions among gay people during filming of a documentary that was released this week in Italy.
Previous popes have criticized same-sex unions. Never before have Catholics heard their spiritual leader call for same-sex unions. While the papal comments are significant, there has not been an official change in church teaching.
Pope Francis’ remarks were translated to English, quoted as saying in part, “What we have to create is a civil union law … that way they are legally covered.” The pontiff expressed the need to allow gay people to form their own families.
“It does potentially have implications for how those families interact with — and are treated — in the church,” said Samira Mehta, assistant professor at the University of Colorado.
Mehta is an expert on gender and religious studies with a focus on Judaism. She said the likely motivation behind the pope’s words has long been part of Catholic doctrine.
“The church [social justice] policy of— everyone is a child of God and deserves certain kinds of human dignity … [the pope’s comments] is making it explicitly clear that that is true for gay people,” Mehta said.
Catholics echoed the call to love their neighbors regardless of sexual orientation before evening mass on Wednesday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Denver.
“I treat everyone equal,” one parishioner said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or whatever.”
However, the faithful are divided when it comes to same-sex civil unions or government-recognized gay marriage.
“Honestly, I do not support gay marriage,” the same parishioner said.
Catholics are often taught a clear distinction when it comes to same-sex attraction.
“Sort of the standard statement is it’s OK to be gay … It’s not OK to act on your desires,” Mehta said concerning Catholic teaching.
The pope has not issued an official statement or directive to churches around the world. Local church leaders are now uncertain of his entire intention.
The Archdiocese of Denver released the following statement Wednesday by responding to a request from FOX31:
“In the documentary Francesco that was released in Italy today, a very brief segment includes Pope Francis speaking about the need to love and accompany people who experience same-sex attraction. This is not a new Church teaching. It is part of Christ’s teaching to love one another as he has loved us. God is love and loves every human being.
Some people, blogs and headlines are claiming that the Pope is moving toward changing Church teaching on marriage and the family, but the short clip in the documentary does not have enough context to make any sort of conclusion on his intentions, and certainly does not change the teachings in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”