DC priest not surprised Pope Francis voices support for civil unions

Pope Francis has become the first pope to endorse same-sex civil unions.

But the shift in gay civil rights by the church has come as no surprise to D.C.-based Jesuit priest Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst with Religion News Service who said the pope’s remarks don’t go nearly as far as the views by a majority of U.S. Catholics.

“What he’s doing here is advocating that civil society recognize the rights of gay people to civil unions. He’s not talking about blessing same-sex marriages in church,” said Reese. “What he’s saying is that gay people have a right to family, and he doesn’t object to that.”

The pope’s remarks have come in a documentary entitled “Francesco,” premiering in Rome. Buttressing his support for civil unions, the pope is quoted as saying: “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family.”

Although the pope’s endorsement of same-sex civil unions is groundbreaking at the Vatican, it’s a position Francis has held since he was archbishop in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“When the [Argentine] government was talking about this issue, he in fact suggested the possibility of civil unions for gay couples. The other bishops didn’t go along with him,” Reese said.

Although the pope’s remarks go further on the matter than the stand of any previous pope, the pontiff’s endorsement doesn’t meet the views of most U.S. Catholics.

According to Reese, “70% of Catholics in the United States support same-sex marriage, let alone civil unions, so I don’t think it’s going to be an issue in the United States.”

Reese finds some ambiguity in the pope’s reference to gay people having a right to be part of the family. “Does that include children?” Reese asked.

Currently, Catholic adoption agencies in the U.S. do not allow gay couples to either adopt or foster children.

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