Pope Francis’ Comment Not Departure from “Catholic Christian Marriage”: African Prelates

Promotional poster of the Documentary film, "Francesco."

The statement by Pope Francis that has made global headlines and triggered a series of controversies is not a departure from the meaning of Catholic Christian Marriage as has been consistently held over the centuries, members of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference (SACBC) have said in a statement shared with ACI Africa.

In the Friday, October 23 statement, SACBC members make reference to “Francesco,” a newly released documentary on the life and ministry of Pope Francis in which he is featured talking about pastoral care for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” Pope Francis is seen saying in the documentary that was released October 21 at the Rome Film Festival.

In the documentary, the Pontiff explains, “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

“A recently published statement by Pope Francis appearing to call for the passage of Civil Union Laws for same sex couples does not represent a departing from the traditional Catholic position regarding Christian Marriage,” SACBC members say in the statement signed by their spokesperson, Archbishop William Matthew Slattery.


The three-nation Bishops cite Pope Francis’ Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia released in April 2016 in which the Catholic Church teaching about Christian Marriage is stated.

“As for proposals to place unions between homosexual persons on the same level as marriage, there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” Pope Francis is cited by SACBC members who bring together heads of Catholic Dioceses in Botswana, South Africa, and Swaziland (Eswatini). 

SACBC members further cite the Holy Father who stated in Amoris Laetitia 251, “It is unacceptable that local Churches should be subjected to pressure in this matter and that international bodies should make financial aid to poor countries dependent on the introduction of laws to establish ‘marriage’ between persons of the same sex.”

In the considered opinion of SACBC members, in his statement about “civil union laws,” Pope Francis “realises that there is a minority of persons who live in homosexual unions and need to be protected by civil law.”

“Civil unions are simply that,” they further say and describe civil unions as “agreements controlled by civil law.”

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For the Catholic Church, civil unions “are in no way marriages. They are simply civil statements by which a gay couple express their civil relationship to each other,” SACBC members say in their October 23 statement.

“The Pope and the Church 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,” the three-nation Bishops say in their one-page five-point statement.

Since the release of “Francesco” October 21, questions have continued to surround the documentary, with particular focus on the phrase “civil union laws,” including the context of Pope Francis’ statement.

While Evgeny Afineevsky who is behind the documentary told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) alongside other journalists that the Holy Father made comments that call for the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples directly to him, it later emerged that the comments were actually part of a 2019 interview of Pope Francis conducted by Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.

The Pope’s input in the documentary has triggered a series of controversies because of the seeming departure from the position of the Vatican’s doctrinal office and his predecessors on the issue.


It also later emerged that several sentences spoken by the Holy Father in “Francesco” were spliced together, out of context, from the 2019 interview, and journalists have since then asked questions about the precise nature of the Holy Father’s remarks on civil unions, CNA reported

Meanwhile, some commenters have indicated that Pope Francis’ phrase, “civil union,” originally in Spanish as “convivencia civil,” is not properly translated.

However, Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, a long-time theological advisor to Pope Francis, posted on Facebook October 21 that civil unions is the correct translation, a post that has since been deleted.

The Vatican press office has been requested to clarify the Holy Father’s comments.

Jude Atemanke is a Cameroonian journalist with a passion for Catholic Church communication. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Buea in Cameroon. Currently, Jude serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.