This article is about the controversial video clip of Pope Francis. The clip itself was part of a documentary of Pope Francis in 2019 in Mexico. The documentary is called “Francesco”. I am hoping and praying I can help you understand what Pope Francis said in the clip, but this requires context. Indeed, his message cannot be properly understood without the proper context in which he offers his message. This context is revealed in the full video of the documentary. For this reason, in my desire to understand what Pope Francis said in the video clip, I had hoped to see the full video on Thursday, after receiving it from a friend, but shortly thereafter it was removed. It will apparently be made available to the public, but I do not know when. I have already seen the video clip in which the Pope recommends the establishment of a “ley de convivencia civil” for certain persons. This clip was either removed from the original footage of the video or was a clip from another video for the documentary. Various authors have suggested that Pope Francis may not have approved for this video clip to be included in the final product. Whatever the case may be, this much is true: in the video clip he uses the term, “ley de convivencia civil”, as he is discussing, not heterosexual persons, but homosexual persons. This clip began to circulate online this past Wednesday. Fortunately, I was able to read the transcript of the documentary on Thursday evening. This was more than just the video clip, but here the Pope’s call for a “ley de convivencia civil” for homosexual persons was, once again, removed from the original transcript of the documentary. Nevertheless, after reading the transcript, I can say that I have a fuller and proper understanding of the meaning of the Pope’s message in the video clip, including his reason for saying what he said. I believe he offers a good message for people if they open their hearts to hear him. At the same time, his message in the video clip can only be correctly understood in its proper context. Herein lies the problem. Many people are not hearing or understanding his message in its proper context. In fact, it appears that they have no interest in hearing his message in its proper context. As a consequence, they are forming incorrect or false judgments about his message.
Moreover, there are people in society and in the Church who claim that homosexual persons should have a right to be in a homosexual marriage or civil union where they could licitly or morally practice their homosexuality. These people are using the video clip of Pope Francis to argue that he is advocating for the practice of homosexuality. Consequently, they claim that the Pope’s message is a basis for them living a homosexual life. This is completely false. These people are completely misunderstanding the Pope’s message outside its proper context. If they really had an interest in the truth, they would hear his message in its proper context to acquire a true understanding of what he said. I have this message for these people: There is nothing, nada, nil in Scripture, Tradition or Magisterium, and certainly nothing in the video clip of Pope Francis, that could serve as a basis for their claim. I invite them to humbly open their hearts to the message in this article. Here I will offer them the proper context from the transcript of the documentary to help them correctly understand what Pope Francis really meant in the video clip. He was certainly not approving or advocating, in the least, for a sinful homosexual marriage, a sinful homosexual civil union or the right for homosexual people to practice sinful homosexual acts. He could never advocate for such moral evils. That would be irrational and immoral on his part, not to mention scandalous.
In my original statements I never accused Pope Francis of advocating for any of these sinful homosexual forms of life. I never believed that he would advocate for them. Nevertheless, as a Roman Catholic, as a Dominican friar and as a priest, I was certainly concerned about what he meant by the law of “convivencia civil”. I was even more concerned that people could possibly misunderstand him, become discouraged and fall from the belief and practice of Catholic faith and morals. Did I have a right to be concerned? Certainly! After all, I am in the business of shepherding people to Christ. Having said that, I hereby retract my former statement that Pope Francis was responsible for causing the scandal in the Church. I repent for that statement. May God have mercy upon me. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. At the same time, I believe that there are people in secular society, in the Church and in the media searching for occasions to create scandal. I offer you this article as a means to help shepherd you, the people of God, beyond the misunderstanding, beyond the discouragement and beyond the failure to trust in the Successor of St. Peter, the Sovereign Pontiff and Vicar of Christ, Pope Francis.
II. TRANSCRIPT OF VIDEO CLIP IN SPANISH
“Las personas homosexuales tienen el derecho estar en una familia. Son hijos de Dios. Tienen derecho a una familia. No se puede echar de la familia a nadie, ni hacerle la vida imposible por eso. Lo que tenemos que hacer es una ley de convivencia civil. Tienen derecho a estar cubiertos legalmente.” – Pope Francis
III. ENGLISH TRANSLATION
“Homosexual persons have a right to be in a family. They are sons and daughters of God. They have a right to a family. Nobody can throw anyone out of the family nor make his life impossible because of that. What we have to do is make a law of convivencia civil. They have a right to be covered legally.”
IV. SUMMARY OF THE CONTEXT
Here I offer you a summary of the transcript of the documentary. This will help you understand the proper context of the video clip of Pope Francis. The documentary itself covers various subjects in a question-answer format. In this summary, I will limit myself to the relevant parts of the documentary that hopefully will help everyone understand the circumstances in which Pope Francis said what he said in the video clip. In the documentary, the woman reporter asks Pope Francis questions about homosexual persons and the subject of homosexual marriage. He begins by saying that homosexual people, people who have a homosexual orientation, have a right to be members of a family. Indeed, they have a right to be in a family and their parents have a right to see them for who they really are as human beings. They are children of God. The implication here is that Pope Francis knows that there are parents and families in society who do not see their homosexual sons and daughters as children of God. On the contrary, they see them merely as garbage. As a result, they oftentimes discard them from their life, just because they are homosexual. They may or may not be living a homosexual life. The problem may be their homosexual orientation. This alone may be the reason their parents and families discard them. Nevertheless, they should never discard them. That would not only be sinful and harmful to their children and relatives, but also scandalous. Consequently, Pope Francis suggests that homosexual persons are especially subject to unjust discrimination and suffering in society, including in their families. For this reason, he recommends the establishment of a “ley de convivencia civil” that would legally cover homosexual persons by protecting them under civil law from such injustices in their family and society. This would give them legal status to live together civilly, not as married couples, not as lovers, not as boyfriends or girlfriends, but as brothers or sisters living together in chaste friendship under the protection of civil law. In this sense, such a “ley de convivencia civil” would be a civil union that would help them safeguard and support each other financially and medically as brothers or sisters. At the same time, the Pope also says that their right to form such a family, by civil union, a union of friendship or brotherhood, does not mean that they would have a right to practice homosexual acts. On the contrary, he proclaims that this right is not an approval for such acts. The many people in society, including in the Church, who are advocating for a sinful homosexual marriage, a sinful homosexual civil union or sinful homosexual acts, fail to understand or accept this message from the Pope in the documentary: he is against all sinful forms of practicing homosexuality. Finally, he says that he has defended the Church’s traditional teaching on Marriage in which a man and a woman alone have a right to marry one another, whether civilly or sacramentally. As such, Pope Francis is certainly against marriage for homosexual persons, including a civil union for homosexuals that would involve homosexual acts. On this basis, the relevant parts of the documentary that relate to homosexual persons reveal that the message of Pope Francis in the video clip is, first and foremost, concerned not about offering them an option for a sinful homosexual marriage or civil union in which they could practice their homosexuality, but is concerned, above all, about protecting them civilly from unjust discrimination from their family members and from society who have oftentimes discarded them as garbage. In my understanding, these are the difficult circumstances that moved Pope Francis to recommend a convivencia civil for homosexual persons in the video clip.
V. UNDERSTANDING THE “LEY DE CONVIVENCIA CIVIL”
Indeed, in this context, he calls for a ley de convivencia civil as a legal protection for homosexual persons. The problem here is that people are claiming that the Pope’s use of this term was incorrectly translated as civil union. I speak Spanish fluently, have researched the term and have spoken to Latin American friends about this term. As a result, the consensus is that translating convivencia civil as civil union is a correct translation. It is not a literal translation, but it is a translation which is faithful to the meaning of the word. This term, convivencia civil, means “legal cohabitation” or “legally living together” which would certainly include civil union, but none of this suggests homosexual relations. Accordingly, convivencia civil refers to a legal or civil union. For this reason, I believe that civil union, as the Pope uses it, is not an incorrect translation. It is a legal concept and status that would offer homosexual persons, including heterosexuals, legal protection against the dangers and injustices already mentioned. That is what the Pope is concerned about. He wants to protect them as sons and daughters of God from being discarded as garbage by others. On this basis, this convivencia civil, or civil union, for homosexual persons neither involves marriage nor homosexual relations, but merely a legal status for protection against unjust discrimination.
In these last days, after I learned about the documentary, Francesco, I read articles in which some archbishops from the United States and Latin America offer their guidance in helping the people of God, including myself, to understand the meaning of the Pope’s use of convivencia civil. What they said, confirmed that he, in fact, does understand this term to mean civil union. Here I will briefly offer you their thoughts on the subject.
In an article published by the Archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, he says that last January during his ad limina visit in Rome with Pope Francis and the Bishops of his region, they discussed the subject of the “ley de convivencia civil”. In the discussion, they referred to this ley de convivencia civil as a civil union. In doing so, they distinguished it from marriage. In fact, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez from Argentina, a theological advisor to Pope Francis for many years, agrees that the Pope understands the phrase, convivencia civil, to substantially mean civil union. According to him, this is not a mistranslation. The Pope, as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, used the term in this manner. Similarly, Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans concurs that Pope Francis, both during his papacy and as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, has used the term, civil union, many times in referring to this legal relationship granted to people by the government. According to Aymond, Pope Francis understands the idea of a civil union as a civil rights question. In this sense, he understands that these people should receive certain benefits and protections legally in a civil union on the basis of these rights. Accordingly, the persons living together legally, as brothers or sisters, in such a union of chaste friendship would receive mutual financial and medical benefits under civil law, but under no circumstances would they be considered a married couple or lovers or have the right to practice intercourse. Furthermore, Archbishop Cordileone says that this form of civil union should be made available to both heterosexual and homosexual persons, including a biological brother and sister, and other family members, such as an aunt and a niece, if the circumstances call for this. They would all have access to receive mutual benefits under civil law. As such, for Cordileone, this civil union would not just be for homosexual persons, but for all human beings, including family members and friends, who are not married. On this basis, Cordileone suggests that there would be no reason to call or define this ley de convivencia civil a civil union only for homosexuals, but a union for all people, including heterosexuals.
From what I have said in this article thus far, I hope and pray you understand that Pope Francis was certainly not advocating for a sinful homosexual civil union where sinful homosexual acts could be practiced by homosexual persons. That is not what he was saying. He never said that. That would be contrary to Catholic faith and morals.
In conclusion, I offer you these thoughts as reminders to help you form and maintain a true judgment about the message from Pope Francis in the documentary. First of all, in the documentary, Francesco, Pope Francis is not changing nor can he change the received Catholic Teaching on the nature and meaning of the sacrament of holy matrimony. Nor can he change the nature and meaning of civil marriage. This is unchangeable. For in the beginning, after God Himself established Marriage as a natural sacrament, a sacrament of nature, involving the complementarity of man and a woman, He later raised this marriage to a sacrament of grace for them. In doing so, He revealed the three goods of marriage: the indissolubility of the marriage bond, the faithful or chaste love and the openness to the generation of human life. In Catholic Teaching, these goods can only be pursued and fulfilled virtuously through the complementarity of a man and a woman in marriage.
Secondly, the Pope’s recommendation of a particular form of civil union, a chaste union of friendship or brotherhood, involving homosexual persons, and others, is neither an endorsement of a civil marriage nor an endorsement of a sacramental marriage for them. For Francis, such a union is not the same as a marriage whatsoever, neither legally nor sacramentally. He is saying that homosexuals, including heterosexuals, and relatives, are members of the human family who have a right to form this civil union to safeguard and support each other legally, financially and medically under civil law. In calling for these homosexual persons to be covered as such, through a civil union, the Pope is defending them civilly against unjust discrimination or harm. In this sense, this is a legal defense for their health and safety as members of the human family and citizens of the state. For Francis, this is a question of legal justice. On this basis, he is saying that such a civil union is good insofar as it legally protects these people as human persons. This is the natural desire or inclination of human beings to self-preservation. All people, according to St. Thomas, are naturally inclined to preserve themselves, their lives, from all danger or harm. On this basis, the desire or inclination for a civil union as a legal protection for their health and safety against danger and injustice proceeds from the natural law.
Furthermore, Pope Francis is not arguing theologically for this form of civil union from the chair of St. Peter on the basis of the revealed Catholic deposit of faith and morals, as mediated in Scripture and Tradition and as safeguarded by the Magisterium. As such, he is certainly not formally defining or offering any doctrine here for Catholics to believe theologically or morally. In fact, I would argue that he is mainly addressing the civil authorities, not the Church. In doing so, I believe he is acting more as a citizen of the state, a citizen of good will, than as the Sovereign Pontiff of the Roman Church. The manner in which he offers his thoughts on this subject in a secular documentary indicate that he is not acting officially and formally as the Roman Pontiff. He is not formally pronouncing a doctrine or dogma on faith or morals for Catholics to believe and profess. He is merely calling for the legal protections of peoples through a procedure in civil law. There will be people who will claim that he is departing from the Tradition, or at least moving the Tradition in a manner unhelpful to these people and the Church. My response to this is that he is doing nothing more, nothing less, than helping to protect them personally and socially, including economically and medically, by advocating for a form of the convivencia civil for them that conforms to the truth of Catholic faith and morals. This would certainly be a means to lead them to salvation in Christ. Once again, in the Pope’s understanding, this form of civil union, or chaste friendship under civil law, neither involves marriage nor sexual relations.
Finally, in this documentary, the Pope is not redefining the morality or moral nature of homosexual acts as morally good. He cannot. This would be contrary to Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium, including right reason and nature. On this basis, homosexual acts remain intrinsically evil. Indeed, they remain evil by nature. This means that there is no teaching, no Sacrament, no authority in heaven or on earth that could ever morally rehabilitate, redeem or change the morality of these acts from being intrinsically evil to intrinsically good. This would be a contradiction in terms. Consequently, they are neither perfective of human beings spiritually and morally nor are they ordainable to God as to their Last End. For this reason, please do not presume that the Pope’s support of a particular form of civil union means that he is redefining Catholic teaching here. I repeat, he cannot. That is not his intention. Is there a danger of scandal that people may claim that Pope Francis is redefining doctrine? Yes! The scandal is already happening, not because of him, but because people are not understanding him properly in the proper context. As I have already said, I, myself, developed and humbly corrected my understanding of his message in the video clip, after reading the transcript. Thanks be to God. I hope and pray you open your heart to understand the true meaning of this message.
VII. MESSAGE TO PARENTS OF HOMOSEXUAL PERSONS
If you have a son who has a homosexual orientation, you are certainly called by God to love him virtuously as God wills. As all human beings, this person, your child, is the beneficiary of God’s love. For God created him in His image for Himself that he would know Him, love Him and serve Him. As such, God loves your child perfectly. Indeed, He loves him as His child. After all, God is, by nature, the full or perfect actuality of infinite Love. As a result, His love for your homosexual son can neither increase nor decrease nor cease. He remains Himself forever as perfect Love. Accordingly, God is not a changeable creature in potency to full perfection nor is He subject to corruption. In this sense, He does not mature in His love for your child nor can He fail to love your child. On the contrary, He is the uncreated unchangeable God who is Love. On this basis, do not yield to the fallacy or temptation that God either does not love your son at all or loves him only imperfectly, because of his homosexual orientation. God certainly loves him. Moreover, he does not have to earn God’s love either. God loves him freely. He loves him as His beloved child. On this basis, the homosexual orientation of your son can neither change nor nullify this truth about God’s love for him.
At the same time, in Catholic Teaching, the homosexual orientation is not natural in the human being. On the contrary, it is an interior disordered movement or inclination of the concupiscible appetite that conditions and inclines a person intellectually and emotionolly to an immoral object through his rational appetite. This inner movement precedes the act of the rational appetite, the will. Consequently, the Church does not call this orientation a moral evil or sin per se, but a disordered orientation, inasmuch as it inclines a person to an evil moral object, an object contrary to right reason, nature and revelation. According to Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium, under no circumstances may a human being act on such an orientation through his will. For he would be sinning against God, possibly mortally, under certain conditions. In this sense, a person was not created by God to be a homosexual. He did not receive this interior homosexual orientation from God in creation. On the contrary, as the Church teaches, he incurred this orientation as a consequence of the original sin of his first parents, Adam and Eve.
Moreover, for the Church, the nature of man, the nature of your son, his full sacred dignity as a human person, cannot be reduced merely or primarily to his homosexual orientation. He himself is not an orientation. He is much more than an orientation. He is a person created in God’s divine image as a rational, free person called to holiness through good moral choices. In doing so, he opens himself for the grace of God to perfect his human nature. In this sense, he is not perfected as a moral agent through his orientation, but through the grace that informs his moral agency as a full person. This life of grace would involve practicing the theological and moral virtues and gifts of the Holy Spirit, including chastity, as a faithful son of God. This alone will lead him to full healing in God interiorly and morally.
Additionally, this will involve the homosexual person, your child, learning to love God as his First or Greatest Love. For this reason, he is called to mature in his love for God until he reaches full perfection in heaven. In this sense, he will neither reach heaven merely because God loves him perfectly nor will he reach heaven as an unrepentant sinner guilty of mortal sin. On the contrary, he will only reach heaven by remaining in the love of God. As Jesus says in the Gospel, “Remain in my love. If you remain in my love, you will bear much fruit.” Only in the love of God will your homosexual child prepare himself to die fruitfully. This preparation would also involve opening his heart to receive the mercy of God through repentance if he falls by acting on his orientation. As such, God’s mercy will be available to him throughout his life, but this is not a license for him to act immorally. Loving God First will move him to prepare himself for heavenly beatitude through repentance and a holy life of virtue. This is true freedom, a freedom for happiness.
Finally, in preparing himself for heaven, God calls your son to love his neighbor virtuously as himself in this life. Is he willing to do this? Is he willing to learn to love sacrificially as Jesus Himself through holy chastity. I pray he is prepared to do this, but he will need the help of God to be chaste in his love of neighbor, just as everyone does.
In Christ with Blessed Mary,
Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.
3 thoughts on “WHAT DID POPE FRANCIS REALLY MEAN BY RECOMMENDING A CONVIVENCIA CIVIL?”
Thank you and God bless you, father.
Thank you for this clear outline, Father. I appreciate you sharing!
Thanks so much, Katie! I thank God He moved me to address and clarify this issue. I was actually on the road preaching when all this broke out. Once people started contacting me upset, including my mom, I knew I had to do something to help. My writings on my website are part of my itinerant ministry. I thank you for taking the time to read this article. God bless you and the family!