Despite recent comments from Pope Francis suggesting he may be open to the idea of civil unions if not same-sex marriage, one of the more influential U.S. bishops in his church doesn’t share the same view.
New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who’s known for his conservative views and opposition to same-sex marriage, said he’d be uncomfortable with even civil unions when asked about the issue on NBC’s “Meet the Press” by host David Gregory.
“If we water down that sacred meaning of marriage in any way, I worry that not only the church would suffer, I worry that culture and society would,” Dolan said.
Dolan also rejected the notion that Francis was expressing support for the legalization of such agreements in his comments to an Italian magazine that were widely reported last week.
“It wasn’t as if he came out and approved them,” Dolan said. “But he…in a sensitivity that has won the heart of the world, he said, “Rather than quickly condemn them, let’s…just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people.”
According to CNN, Francis said during an interview with Corriere della Sera that he remains opposed to same-sex marriage, but added “we have to look at different cases” and civil unions could “provide financial security to cohabitating couples.” That’s along the lines of the support Francis expressed for civil unions when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Argentina in 2010.
Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, chided Dolan for his remarks, saying they were contrary to the position of the pope.
“Since Day 1 of this papacy, Cardinal Dolan has sought to minimize the teachings of Francis and the new and welcome message of inclusion, but the Cardinal is out of step with the Pope, out of step with the great majority of American Catholics who support the freedom to marry, and out of step with the true values of love and the Golden Rule,” Wolfson said.
The remarks on civil unions from both Dolan and Francis come at a time when virtually no jurisdiction is debating them as states and countries are instead moving toward marriage equality for relationship recognition for gay couples.
Dolan’s main point during his “Meet the Press” was that Francis was shrewdly adapting the message of the church in a time when public sentiment is changing, but church doctrine remains the same.
“And so Francis is reminding us, look, if we come across as some crabby, nay saying shrill, we’re not gonna win anybody. If we come across as a loving, embracing holy mother church who says, “Come on in. We love you. We need you. We want you. And once you get to know us, then maybe we can invite you to the conversion of heart that is at the core of the gospel. And then maybe we can talk about changing behavior. That’s a very effective pedagogy.”
Dolan was also asked for his views on the coming out announcement of Michael Sam, the Missouri collegiate defense lineman who could be the first openly gay person to play in the NFL.
“Good for him,” Dolan said. “I would have no sense of judgment on him. God bless ya. I don’t think the same bible that…teaches us well about the virtues of chastity and the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say, ‘Bravo.’”
The exchange between Gregory and Dolan on civil unions follows:
DAVID GREGORY: Do you imagine the church might open the way to accepting civil unions?
CARDINAL DOLAN: He mentioned– I haven’t see– I’m– I’m as eager as you are to– read the– the full extent of that interview. And if I saw the reports accurately, they– he didn’t come right out and say he was for them. Once again, in an extraordinarily– sincere, open, nuanced way, he said, “I know that some people in some states have chosen this. We need to think about that and look into it and see the reasons that have driven them.”
It wasn’t as if he came out and approved them. But he– he just in– in a sensitivity that has won the heart of the world, he said, “Rather than quickly condemn them, let’s see if– let’s– let’s just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people–”
DAVID GREGORY: Would that make you uncomfortable?
CARDINAL DOLAN: I– it would. It would, in a way, David. Because I don’t think– marriage, between– one man and one woman forever leading to life and love, that’s not something that’s just a religious, sacramental concern. You bet it is that, and– and we– that’s how god has elevated it, to making a sacrament.
But it’s also the building block of society and culture. So it belongs to culture. And if– and if we water down that sacred meaning of marriage in any way, I worry that not only the church would suffer, I worry that culture and society would.