Pope Francis has suggested that the Vatican could support gay civil unions in the future, according to one of the church’s most senior cardinals.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan said that the pontiff wants the Catholic Church to study same-sex unions, ‘rather than condemn them’.
Cardinal Dolan told American television that Francis wants church leaders to ‘look into it and see the reasons that have driven them.’
‘It wasn’t as if he came out and approved them,’ Dolan told NBC on Sunday. ‘He said, “Rather than quickly condemn them, let’s just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people.”’
In an interview to mark his first year in the church’s top job, Pope Francis last week reaffirmed the Vatican’s opposition to gay marriage but indicated that some types of civil unions could be acceptable to the church.
The Pope restated the church’s teaching that ‘marriage is between a man and a woman,’ but added ‘We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety.
Some countries justify civil unions as a way to provide the same economic and legal rights to cohabitating couples as those who are married, the Pope said in the interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the then Jorge Maria Bergoglio was one of the leaders of the Catholic Church’s public charge against legalising same-sex marriage in Argentina. He called the proposed legislation ‘a destructive attack on God’s plan’.
But behind closed doors the Argentine archbishop is said to have supported civil unions for same-sex couples.
Former theology professor and gay rights activist Marcelo Marquez said: ‘He told me “I’m in favour of gay rights and in any case, I also favour civil unions for homosexuals, but I believe that Argentina is not yet ready for a gay marriage law”.’
But Francis’ comments are the first time that a Pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions, according to Vatican watchers.
Archbishop Dolan said his own view was that gay unions could ‘water down’ the symbolic meaning of traditional marriage.
‘It’s not something that’s just a religious, sacramental concern,’ Dolan said. ‘It’s also the building block of society and culture. So it belongs to culture. 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.’
Since being elected Pope last year Francis has softened the tone coming out of Rome. He told journalists that he would not ‘judge’ gays and lesbians including gay priests saying, ‘If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?’
In recognition for the perceived change in stance Francis appeared on the cover of gay magazine The Advocate as their person of the year.