Bishop Mark Hagemoen writes letter regarding the documentary “Francesco” and the comments by Pope Francis in regard to civil unions of same-sex couples

Pope Francis speaking on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul in June 2019. (File photo by Daniel Ibanez - Catholic News Agency)

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

Saskatoon Bishop Mark Hagemoen has written a letter to the faithful clarifying the understanding of comments by Pope Francis about civil unions of same-sex couples, which were circulated in a recently-released film documentary “Francesco.”

The 2020 documentary by director Evgeny Afineevsky included previously unpublished remarks from a Mexican television interview. News reports quote Pope Francis as saying in the film: “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.” In addition, the documentary quotes the pope as saying: “What we have to have is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.”

In his Nov. 2 letter distributed to parishes and pastors, Bishop Hagemoen shares clarification about the comments recently received from the Vatican by the Canadian Catholic Council of Bishops (CCCB) describing the context of Pope Francis’ comments recorded in an interview in response to two distinct questions, which were then published as a single answer “without proper contextualization.”

“The Holy Father had firstly made a pastoral reference on the need that, within the family, the son or daughter with a homosexual orientation should never be discriminated against,” according to the message from the Vatican Secretary of State (translated from Italian).

The message from the Vatican illuminates this pastoral concern for those with a homosexual orientation and their families, by quoting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family Amoris Laetitia (2016):   “During the Synod, we discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children. We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided,” particularly, “…any form of aggression and violence. Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.” (Amoris Laetitia 250)

The Vatican statement continues: “A subsequent question in the same interview was addressing a local law of ten years ago in Argentina on “matrimonios igualitarios de parejas del mismo sexo” (“equal marriage of same-sex couples”) and the opposition to it by the Pope when he served then as the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. In this regard, Pope Francis affirmed that “es una incongruencia hablar de matrimonio homosexual,” (“…it is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage.”) He added that, in this precise context, he had spoken of the right of these persons to have legal protection: “…lo que tenemos que hacer es una ley de convivencia civil; tienen derecho a estar cubiertos legalmente. Yo defendí eso ». (…what we need is a civil law of coexistence; they have the right to be covered legally. I defend this.”)

The Vatican statement further quotes words from Pope Francis during an interview in 2014: “Marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of living together, driven by the need for regulating economic aspects between persons, such as ensuring health care. These are living together agreements of various kinds, of which I cannot list the different forms. It is necessary to see the different cases and evaluate them case by case.”

In his letter to the diocese providing the Vatican clarification, Bishop Mark Hagemoen observes: “Concerns for pastoral care, outreach and justice are behind these brief comments by Pope Francis, who in many other statements has upheld and extolled the Church’s teachings on marriage.”

Ongoing discrimination and persecution of same-sex attracted persons even includes criminal prosecution and life-threatening violence in some parts of the world, Hagemoen points out.

Bishop Mark Hagemoen’s letter regarding film “Francesco”  and comments on civil unions – PDF

Given confusion around the comments by Pope Francis quoted in the documentary, Bishop Hagemoen says: “I write to affirm the Church’s teaching and hopefully provide some clarity.”

The bishop’s letter goes on to affirm that those who identify as LGBQT must be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” and “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church  #2358).

Hagemoen also writes: “The Church teaches that all sexual activity outside of Christian marriage – in which such activity is open to unitive love and the transmission of life – is contrary to its moral teaching and to natural law (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #2357).”

He quotes the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith 2003 statement on “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons” which stated: “The principles of respect and non-discrimination cannot be invoked to support legal recognition of homosexual unions.” (par. 9)

“The document made clear the Church’s teaching that civil unions between same-sex couples are not supported by the Church because they are against the good of individuals and of society,” writes Hagemoen. “The discussion about how Pope Francis’ comments can be understood in relation to the CDF statement will be ongoing and is beyond the scope of this letter. While Pope Francis does not contradict the CDF document, his previous comments might be interpreted as trying to frame differently a very difficult and polarizing issue. What will probably feature in the ongoing course of the discussion will be the contrast between forms of civil unions and/0r partnerships – including those for same-sex couples – and the features of what the Church teaches in relation to sacramental marriage between one man and one woman.”

In his letter, Bishop Hagemoen presents a number of other quotes about Pope Francis’ position on marriage and the Church’s teaching on the nature of Christian marriage, sexual ethics and the relation to public laws.

“What comes to mind for me at this point is to urge faithful Catholics to be dedicated to all that the Gospel reveals and the Church magisterium teaches – especially in regards to difficult and controversial issues,” writes Bishop Hagemoen.

“Living the fullness of the Church’s teaching on many issues, including chastity, and the various vocations including marriage – is not always simple or easy. In what is sometimes referred to as ‘the messiness of the human condition’ – many struggle and deal with heart-breaking situations. In all of this, let us seek a spirit of charity and compassion, rather than the kind of judgment that features condemnation. Let us pray for each other and strive always to follow the example of Jesus Christ.”

The bishop continues: “Let us also be conscientious when it comes to doing the intellectual and reflective work of understanding what our faith teaches, and understanding the important nuances that assist us with the paramount task of the ‘salvation of souls’ and drawing all people into an intimate union with the Triune God.  In a technological age in which the internet seeks to attract readers, let us be disciplined and discerning when various news sources and film-makers make sensational statements on difficult and controversial issues. Otherwise, the Christian community ends up acting like the world!”

Bishop Hagemoen’s letter also cites the conclusion of a recent letter by the Saskatchewan Catholic bishops about racism: “Let us work together to address … our society’s major justice issues, including addressing obstacles to human dignity.” The letter on racism “also stated that in the biblical tradition, growth and ongoing conversion always first involves a personal change of mind and heart – an ongoing interior conversion. ‘Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit!’ (Ezekiel 18:31)”

Hagemoen adds: “In this case, the call to conversion features growth in chastity, holiness, and charity. The person seeking growth in chastity is called to a deepening integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him/her. It also features the journey of deepening self-mastery and human freedom, including freedom from concupiscence – the tendency to sin that remains in us all. (see Catechism of the Catholic Church #2337 – 2345). The person seeking greater holiness seeks, “… living the fullness of the Christian life and …the perfection of charity.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #2013) And, the one who seeks growth in charity, seeks that which brings fullness and ‘perfection’ of the Christian life.”

Bishop Hagemoen concludes by imploring all to pray for Pope Francis in his role as chief shepherd of the Catholic Church. “Indeed, the Holy Father reveals to us the key qualities of being a spiritual father in a difficult world needing healing and light.”