Pope Francis has certainly done a good job of media relations in giving the Vatican a more people friendly image than it has projected in recent years. Many people including me were skeptical as to whether that meant any actual change in rigidly conservative doctrinal and political positions. Now there is news from Brazil that something that amounts to real change might be happening.
The secretary general of the National Confederation of Brazilian Bishops endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples in an interview published this week in the magazine O Globo.This is significant for the fact of some change at all. It is certainly a cautious statement as compared with the tide of actual events in the US and Europe. However, this is Latin America where the Catholic still carries a good bit of political clout,
“There needs to be a dialog on the rights of shared life between people of the same sex who decide to live together. They need legal support from society,” Bishop Leonardo Steiner said.
Steiner made clear the church still opposes marriage for same-sex couples, which Brazil’s National Council of Justice made legal last year. “The difficulty is in deciding that marriages of people of the same sex are equivalent to marriage or family,” Steiner said, adding that he believes the measure should have been voted on by congress instead of being enacted by the judiciary.
This is the first national church leader to endorse the concept of same-sex civil unions since Pope Francis said in April that there was a possibility the church could give its blessing to certain arrangements, though they would have to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The Catholic hierarchy is faced with a real organizational problem. Under the last two popes the official positions of the church remained stubbornly unchanging while the opinions of a majority of church members in the US and Europe have changed rather radically and are more often than not in sync with the 21st C. In other parts of the world members are still more inclined to adhere to official teachings. American Catholics often seem comfortable in just ignoring the official pronouncements and going about their business.