The Catholic Church is on the verge of reversing its opposition to homosexual unions. Or so the media believes, based on a recent interview Francis gave with the Italian paper Corriere della Sera. Here’s the relevant section, quoted in a story by Catholic News Service:
“Matrimony is between a man and a woman,” the pope said, but moves to “regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care.” Asked to what extent the church could understand this trend, he replied: “It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety.”
As is common with Pope Francis, it’s not clear exactly what he is saying here. But it’s plausible that what he’s talking about is not civil unions for homosexual partnerships per se but opening up civil unions to different kinds of relationships that involve mutual care and support. Civil unions that are as open to spinster sisters seeking rights and tax advantages as they are open to homosexual couples—this has always been a compromise conservatives have been willing to support.What this boils down to is another case in which the Pope hasn’t changed fundamental Church teaching, but the media thinks he has. This disjunction has been perhaps the main fuel behind the “Francis effect.” But a new Pew poll the suggests that effect may not be as potent as we thought, at least in America. While U.S. Catholics think Francis is “change for the better,” they are not attending mass or going to confession in any greater numbers. They may be praying and reading the Bible more, however, but it’s not clear if that’s due to Francis or not.Francis has so far been successful in drawing the poison out of the Catholic brand. Now it remains to be seen if he can do what a Christian leader really wants to be doing: making a compelling, positive case for faith that moves people to action.