MANILA— Pope Francis's statement supporting civil union for same-sex couples, which was lifted from a documentary that premiered in Rome recently, has been the subject of much debate across the world, including the Philippines, Asia's bastion of Catholicism.
Those who are championing the cause for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning (LGBTQ) community saw it as a small victory, while conservatives within the Catholic church have criticized the Pope for his alleged attempts to overthrow its ancient teachings.
For Rev. Msgr. Pepe Quitorio, director of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines' (CBCP) media office, it is clear that the Pope's statement did not change anything in the Church's doctrine.
"It is not a change of dogma, or document ng Simbahan. Walang binago. Ang sa kanya lang, bigyan ng atensyon ng civil government (ang LGBTQ community) kasi may mga problema ‘yang ganyan and they are our brothers and sisters," Quitorio said in an interview with Radio Veritas on Friday.
[Nothing changed. For the Pope, he wants the civil government to give attention to the problems of the LGBT community because they are our brothers and sisters.)
Rev. Fr. Francis Lucas, president of the Catholic Media Network, echoed this, saying the Pope's statement clarified the distinction between civil union and marriage. He insisted that the Catholic Church's doctrine on marriage remains to be between a man and a woman.
"Unang-una 'yung civil union ay labas na Simbahan 'yun. Nakadepende 'yan sa mga mambabatas... Pero 'yung marriage nasa purview pa 'yan ng Simbahan kasi biblical 'yun," Lucas said in separate interview on TeleRadyo.
[First, civil union is already outside the scope of the Church. It depends on our lawmakers. But marriage remains within the purview of the Church because that is biblical.]
He added that the Pope's statement can also be interpreted as a call for civil governments to enact more laws that would protect the rights of LGBTQ people. This, Lucas said, is consistent with the Pope's campaign for the protection of the marginalized.
"Kaya nga dalawa 'yung interpretation sa sinabi ni Pope Francis, una ay gumawa ng batas para hindi naaapi ang LGBTQ. Pero in another sense, ang puwede ring interpret 'yun na 'wag lang baguhin 'yung marriage which is so sacred, especially for the Church," the priest said.
[That's why there are two possible interpretations of what Pope Francis said, first is that there should be laws that would protect the LGBTQ. In another sense, it could also be interpreted as so long as you don't change the definition of marriage, which is sacred, especially for the Church.]
Lucas also explained that this could be a mere opinion of the Pope, as there is still no official proclamation nor decree from the Vatican about the matter.
"Maaaring opinyon ni Pope 'yan, pero wala pang official proclamation ang Vatican... Kasi siyempre may legal din ang Simbahan," he said.
[It's possible that it's just the Pope's opinion, but there's still no official proclamation from the Vatican... Of course the Church also has its own legal process.]
Lucas was referring to "ex-cathedra" teachings of the Pope, where he definitively declares doctrines that are binding throughout the Church. Such declarations are considered infallible or free from errors.
Examples of this are Pope Pius IX's declaration in 1854 about the Immaculate Conception of Mary and Pope Pius XII's declaration in 1950 about the Assumption of Mary.
WAS THERE A MISTRANSLATION?
The documentary "Francesco" by director Evgeny Afineevsky premiered last October 21 in Rome and features exclusive interviews with Pope Francis and others, including the emeritus pontiff Benedict XVI.
In it, Francis spoke in Spanish. This has caused some commentators to argue that the Pope was mistranslated, since a lot of journalists used the subtitles provided within the documentary itself.
Some cited the phrase "convivencia civil" or "civil cohabitating," which they said is different from the term "civil union."
However, an American Magazine article cited a statement from the archbishop of La Plata in Argentina, saying the terms "civil cohabitating" and "civil unions" are used interchangeably in the country.
In fact, when then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was serving as the archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope supported civil unions for same-sex couples as an alternative to gay marriage.
But despite the Pope's support for civil unions for same-sex couples, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Alfonso SJ, the executive director of Jesuits Communication, cited an allegation that the Pope's interview was cut to exclude his statements about homosexual acts.
"May karugtong daw 'yan. Tinanggal na ang 'this doesn’t mean that I support homosexual act.' Tinanggal 'yun. Ganun po talaga 'yan," Alfonso said in an interview with Radio Veritas.
(The part that said 'this doesn't mean I support homosexual act' was cut.)
"Pangalawa, matagal nang turo ng Simbahan at ito ang mahalaga na ang third sex na matagal na may mga dokumento na ang Simbahan na ang people (who) are differently orientated, dapat respetuhin pa rin natin. Respetuhin, kalingain, mahalin."
[Second, it has long been the teaching of the Church that gay people must be respected. Give them respect, care, love.]
The Pope's lack of statement denouncing homosexual acts has been the center of criticism of his remark on civil unions.
While it is true that Catholic teachings uphold that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect, a 2003 document signed by then prefect of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who eventually became Pope Benedict XVI) insisted that the Church's respect for the gays "cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions."
As of writing, there is still no clarification from the Vatican regarding the Pope's statement. Although a news article on Vatican News about the documentary was recently published, it only described the film as something that "highlights the challenges of our time, the urgencies that need answering and the mission of the Church in looking to those who suffer injustices."
For Lucas, he said only the Pope could clarify his statement. However, he said Francis' teachings about respect for all creations has always been clear.
"Pero 'yung main (message) niya, talagang sinasabi matagal na, walang iniiwan na tao ano mang klase na kinreate ng Diyos. Makasalanan ka man, banal ka man, kung ano ka man ay kailangang ibigay pa rin ang iyong dignity."
(But the Pope's main message, which he's been saying for a long time now, is that no one is left behind among His creations. Whether you are a sinner, a holy man, whatever you are, your dignity must be respected.)