Campus leaders comment on Pope’s message of same-sex civil unions

By Catherine Brown–

On Oct. 22, a translation from the 2020 documentary Francesco was released that made the Pope appear to support civil unions between same-sex couples being recognized.

We need to have this conversation because it’s relevant for so many students. While students will have differing opinions on the topic, one point remains clear: LGBTQ+ youth, especially those of faith, should have a place where they feel like they belong. And the Pope certainly expresses this sentiment.

The Catholic Church is known for being conservative about social justice topics like same-sex relationships. The Church views same-sex relationships and homosexuality as sinful. The Church generally only accepts the notion of a marriage to be between one man and one woman.

Lisa Gunterman, director of the LGBT Center at U of L, grew up Catholic and said that some of the earliest emotional wounds LGBTQ+ people experience is from their faith communities, telling them they are unwelcomed or unloved by God.

The emotional impact of these messages can be devastating, especially to young people,” Gunterman said. “We know from data, for example, that LGBTQ youth experience higher rates of suicidality, bullying and houselessness, as compared to their peers. The sole reason we see so many LGBTQ+ young people experiencing housing insecurity is because their families disowned them, often times because parents/guardians could not reconcile their religious beliefs with their child’s LGBTQ+ identity.”

And after the initial news spread of the Pope’s supposed endorsement, there were also articles stating that the original footage was mistranslated, including some from U of L. 

The Rev. John Paul Kern, chaplain of the Catholic Campus Ministry at U of L, said he has spoken with native Spanish speakers that can translate the Pope’s words. Kern concluded that the speech was translated in a way that might make it easy to misconstrue.

“The Pope does not endorse adopting children, but does encourage families who have children with same-sex attraction not to reject or exclude these children from their family in any way,” Kern said. “The Pope was explaining his thoughts on civil unions, which could include two people of the same sex, and not simply ‘homosexual civil unions,’ and it also seems he was explaining one practical option to the situation in Argentina in 2010 and not advocating for a general approach to be followed in all times and places.” 

Despite this, Gunterman said that for anyone identifying with Catholic and LGBTQ+ identities, it’s still possible to find a sense of belonging in both communities. 

“There are currently Catholic communities across the country that welcome and affirm LGBTQ+ families, you just have to look for the,” Gunterman said. “Pope Francis’s words have not only given support to these families, but to the priests, lay ministers and congregations who have been welcoming, all along. His words will hopefully challenge those who have been unwelcoming in the past to interrogate their personal biases, while committing to ensuring all of their members feel included, affirmed and celebrated.”

At U of L, the university offers resources for students who identify as LGBTQ+ and Catholic.

“What has been inspiring, to me is the cultural shift that has been taking place, where it is now possible to identify affirming Catholic communities and schools,” Gunterman said. “U of L even has a scholarship now for LGBTQ+ Catholic students and allies—the Bourke DeLeon Endowed LGBT Catholic Scholarship—which is the first of its kind in the nation. Scholarships such as these send a message to students that they don’t have to lose their faith tradition, simply because of their LGBTQ+ identity.”

Whether the circulating translation of the Pope’s words was correct or not, it’s important for Catholic LGBTQ+ youth to feel like they have a place. No matter your personal belief on LGBTQ+ identity, the Pope makes it clear that students should not feel out of place in their community, and should always be treated with love and respect.

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