In Fratelli Tutti (“All Brothers”), Francis argues that a common bond unites all of humanity and creates a brotherhood among us as children of God. Our brotherhood, then, is rooted in our humanity, not in the spiritual inheritance we receive when we place our faith and hope in the risen Christ. According to the letter, if there is to be hope for peace in this world, it must come on the basis of our shared humanity, not on the basis of faith in Christ Jesus.
Pope Francis is again making headlines for controversial comments, this time concerning “civil unions” between same-sex couples. But before getting into what he said, it is worth clarifying the weight the pope’s comments hold with regard to official Catholic teaching.
He is, after all, a man of many titles, and those titles muddy the waters of knowing exactly how to interpret and understand his words when he speaks. No other person on the planet claims the title of Vicar of Christ, who purportedly speaks on Christ’s behalf and through whom Christ’s revelation to the church is ongoing. No other person claims to be the supreme pontiff of the universal church.
More than that, the pope also serves as the sovereign of the state of Vatican City. In other words, Catholics hold that the pope is both head of the church, who speaks on behalf of Christ himself, and head of a state, in this case Vatican City.
Add to his array of titles the doctrine of infallibility, which became Catholic Church dogma during the first Vatican Council (1869–1870), and things get particularly interesting. Needless to say, when the pope speaks, people listen.
The controversial comments were unveiled in October during the Rome Film Festival, which took place at the auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome, Italy.
During the festival, a documentary on Pope Francis titled Francesco debuted, in which the pope expresses his support for same-sex civil unions. Jason Horowitz, reporting for the New York Times, quotes the pope’s precise words from the documentary as, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they [same-sex couples] are legally covered.”
Elsewhere in the documentary, Pope Francis says, “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.” While there is some controversy concerning when exactly Pope Francis made these comments, there is no doubt that they came during his papacy.
Furthermore, they are consistent with his stance on this matter that he has made clear so far throughout his papacy. During his first year as pontifex maximus (2013), while returning to Rome from Brazil aboard an Alitalia flight, the pope was asked by journalists about gay priests. Francis famously replied, “If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?”
One Happy Family?
The timing of these comments is also notable. Although they were made some time ago, and just recently appeared in the film, it is interesting that we are hearing about them now, in the immediate wake of Pope Francis’s third encyclical letter, Fratelli Tutti. “Letter” is perhaps not the best way to describe the pope’s encyclical, as it contains more than 42,000 words. It is more of a book than a letter.
In Fratelli Tutti (“All Brothers”), Francis argues that a common bond unites all of humanity and creates a brotherhood among us as children of God. Our brotherhood, then, is rooted in our humanity, not in the spiritual inheritance we receive when we place our faith and hope in the risen Christ.
According to the letter, if there is to be hope for peace in this world, it must come on the basis of our shared humanity, not on the basis of faith in Christ Jesus. Paragraph 281 states,
A journey of peace is possible between religions. Its point of departure must be God’s way of seeing things. “God does not see with his eyes; God sees with his heart. And God’s love is the same for everyone, regardless of religion. Even if they are atheists, his love is the same. When the last day comes, and there is sufficient light to see things as they really are, we are going to find ourselves quite surprised.”
We all are brothers, according to the pope. And if we all are brothers, how can one brother stand in judgment over another? We must respect all walks of life and convictions of all kinds.
The Church esteems the ways in which God works in other religions, and “rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. She has a high regard for their manner of life and conduct, their precepts and doctrines which . . . often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men and women.” (Paragraph 277)
God’s love is the same for everyone, he says, and if that is true, who are we to judge others simply because they do not believe as we do or share our same convictions? That is the message of Fratelli Tutti. Following this line of thought, and applying it to the discussion at hand, who is the Church to judge same-sex couples? Why should the Church stand in the way of their desires?