ARCHBISHOP FISHER. Does Pope Francis support same-sex marriage?

A number of commentators have recently suggested that loyalty to Catholic teaching, and especially to Pope Francis, would allow, even require, support for same-sex marriage; by implication, the Australian bishops misunderstand Catholic teaching and have been disloyal to Pope Francis by saying Catholics should vote NO. But what has Pope Francis actually said about this?

In April 2010, while still Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he issued a strongly worded pastoral letter on behalf of his fellow bishops against the redefinition of marriage in Argentine law. He reminded public authorities of their responsibility to protect marriage and its unique contribution to the common good. He pointed out that the state is not discriminating unjustly when it requires a man and a woman to make a marriage: “it merely recognises a natural reality”. The future pope continued: “A marriage – made up of man and woman – is not the same as the union of two people of the same sex. To distinguish is not to discriminate but to respect differences… At a time when we place emphasis on the richness of pluralism and social and cultural diversity, it is a contradiction to minimise fundamental human differences. A father is not the same as a mother. We cannot teach future generations that preparing yourself for planning a family based on the stable relationship between a man and a woman is the same as living with a person of the same sex.”

But has Cardinal Bergolio changed his tune since becoming Pope Francis? He has famously emphasized the need for the Church to be close to people, accompanying them pastorally amidst the complexity of their lives, and helping to heal their wounds. He is acutely aware that many people with same-sex attraction feel alienated from the Church and society. He says that he will not judge homosexuals who are genuinely searching for God and seeking to do the good.

However, sensitive pastoral care towards gay and lesbian people, including same-sex couples, is consistent with upholding the truth of marriage as the lifelong union of man and woman open to procreation. Indeed, Pope Francis has been critical of the “narcissistic individualism” of contemporary culture, which promotes “a freedom disengaged from responsibility” and the common good – whether among heterosexual or homosexual persons. He has criticised “ideologies that attack the family project directly”. These cultural forces, he thinks, undermine the natural and divinely-given plan for marriage and the family.[1] And he argues that upon the health of marriages and marriage-based families depend not only happiness and holiness for many individuals, but also the transmission of faith and ethics, the vigour of economies and polities, the care of life and the generations, and thus the very direction of peoples through history.[2]

In this context Pope Francis has repeatedly argued that the legalisation of same-sex marriage would be “a step backwards for humanity” (an ‘anthropological regression’)[3] and gravely harm us all – homosexuals included – because the health of the ‘human ecology’ depends on a healthy marital culture.[4] Such a culture draws the two sexes together in married life and ensures that, as far as possible, children receive the gift of the contributions of both male and female parents, committed to each other and to them.[5] Quoting from the Australian Bishops’ Pastoral, Don’t Mess With Marriage, and making it his own in his celebrated exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis insists that each of the spouses “contributes in a distinct way to the upbringing of a child. Respecting a child’s dignity means affirming his or her need and natural right to have a mother and a father.”[6] The ‘ideological colonisation’ resulting from confusing presentations of sexuality and marriage disfigures God’s plan for creation, denies children their natural rights, harms individuals and communities, and must be resisted.[7] Yet sadly “many countries are witnessing a legal deconstruction of the family, tending to adopt models based almost exclusively on the autonomy of the individual will.”[8]

Far from revoking the Catholic Church’s two-thousand-year-long insistence that (according to divine revelation and the natural law) marriage can only be between a man and a woman,[ix]Pope Francis has been a strong advocate of that very position. Those claiming his support in their campaign for a Yes vote in the forthcoming plebiscite have either not read him or are deliberately misrepresenting him. To vote with Pope Francis is to VOTE NO.


[1] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family (2016), 33-34, 39-40 etc.; Address to the Faculty and Students of the John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and the Family, 27 October 2016.

[2] Amoris Laetitia, 52.

[3] Edward Pentin, ‘Pope repeats that same-sex ‘marriage’ is “anthropological regression’ National Catholic Register, 3 January 2014.

[4] Pope Francis, General Audience, 5 June 2013; Address to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, 25 November 2014; Address to the Filipino Authorities and Diplomatic Corps, Manila, 16 January 2015.

[5] Pope Francis, Address to the European Bishops Conference, 3 October 2014; Address to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, 25 November 2014; Address to the Filipino Authorities and Diplomatic Corps, Manila, 16 January 2015; Amoris Laetitia, 81-83, 166ff, 172ff etc.

[6] Amoris Laetitia, 172; cf. Address to the International Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman, Rome, 17 November 2014.

[7] Likewise in Pope Francis, Address to the International Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman, Rome, 17 November 2014; Address to Filipino Authorities and Diplomatic Corps, Manila, 16 January 2015.

[8] Amoris Laetitia, 53.

[ix] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons, 3 June 2003.


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4 Responses to ARCHBISHOP FISHER. Does Pope Francis support same-sex marriage?

  1. Peter Downie says:

    Bishop Anthony, the question of voting with Pope Francis does not arise, as to the best of my knowledge, he does not appear on the electoral roll. Even if was entitled to participate, I would prefer to vote with my niece and her partner, whose love for each other and for their two beautiful children is an inspiration to all of our family. No-one is going to force you to accept the state’s revised interpretation of the word “marriage,” and you will be free to use your own. Peter Downie

  2. Rosemary Lynch says:

    Quaint, Archbishop. But what concerns me is that people have the right to commit to each other in love, publically, and have that commitment confirmed, publically, and have the right to inherit, without familial priority, their communal assets, which they do not have, at the moment. Consider this a civil array of rights by all means. But back off.

  3. Frank Brennan says:

    This was my homily in the parish on Sunday:

    Last Sunday, Jesus was asking the disciples who people thought the Son of Man was. The disciples in Matthew’s account replied that some thought he was John the Baptist and others, Elijah. Unlike in Mark’s account, some also thought that he was Jeremiah – the prophet we hear in today’s first reading lamenting that he has become a laughing stock in the public square. For Jeremiah, speaking up and proclaiming the word of the Lord meant ‘insult, derision, all day long’. He thought he would withdraw and just shut up. But he felt impelled to keep proclaiming the good news.

    Last Sunday, Peter thought he was in the box seat. He had rightly proclaimed Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus declared, ‘You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church’. Jesus gave him the keys of the kingdom and told him that whatever he bound on earth would be considered bound in heaven. No sooner has Jesus done all this for Peter than Jesus begins to teach about his pending suffering and death ‘at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and scribes’. Little wonder that Peter thought himself well situated to take Jesus aside and give him some stern worldly advice, ‘Heaven preserve you, Lord. This must not happen to you.’ What’s Jesus’ response to this, his chief disciple, to whom he has just entrusted the whole box and dice for the future? ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

    Controversy even within the faith community is not unknown. Here it is at the very outset of the disciples’ mission to establish the Church. Not even Peter gets it, during his first encounter with the revelation that the path of Jesus is the path to Jerusalem, the path of suffering and death.

    You may have noticed that there is more than enough controversy brewing at the moment about all manner of things involving the Church in the public square. There is to be a plebiscite or a survey about our opinion on the desirable law about marriage. What to say?

    For us Catholics, a baptised man and a baptised woman can exchange their marriage vows before the Church’s minister. The sacramental marriage bond is ‘established by God himself in such a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptised persons can never be dissolved’. The couple pledge themselves to each other exclusively for life, freely and without reservation, being open to the bearing and nurturing of each other’s children. Most civil marriages in Australia are not recognised by the Church as sacramental marriages.

    Many of us Catholics understand our world through the prism of God’s revelation or natural law. Through such a prism, we can describe marriage, and not just sacramental marriages, as being ‘established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws’. Mind you, even those of us who find this prism useful need to admit that in Old Testament times, polygamy was seen as acceptable and presumably approved by Yahweh, and the law of Moses allowed the man to divorce a wife.

    We live in a pluralistic democratic society in which most citizens are not eligible for a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church, and in which many citizens do not espouse marriage as an institution established by the Creator. Many of our fellow citizens view marriage as a purely human and malleable institution. We Catholics need to concede that marriage under Commonwealth law is very different from a sacramental marriage.

    Civil marriage in Australia is a contract terminable on one year’s notice by either party. The parties are then at liberty to enter in to a new contract with another party, and to do so ad seriatim. The parties can enter into the contract with an intention not to bear and nurture each other’s children even if they be physically capable. None of these present attributes of civil marriage in Australia coincide with the aspects of a sacramental marriage recognised by the Catholic Church.

    Should civil marriage be redefined by our Parliament to include an exclusive contract between two persons of the same sex? Some of our bishops have joined forced with others campaigning for a ‘No’ vote. Some of our bishops are urging people to vote ‘No’. Some of our bishops are not urging people to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but pleading that they remain respectful during the campaign.

    It is important for us to understand that a Catholic could vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the forthcoming survey. It is not for me as a priest or for any bishop to tell you how to vote. I have been happy to tell people how I will be voting, but I have no interest in campaigning and urging my fellow Catholics or even my fellow citizens to vote a particular way. As with most public controversies, arguments appealing to Catholics of good will can be made for either side in the dispute – as to what constitutes the common good, and as how best to respect the rights and entitlements of all persons, including children.

    Whatever way you are intending to vote, remember that it is important to respect the dignity of all, particularly those with whom you disagree. Both sides are agreed that the outcome should be the one which enhances respect and dignity for all. They just disagree on which outcome would achieve that. So, both sides should be committed during the process of the survey or plebiscite to actions and statements showing respect and dignity for all. Let’s recall Paul’s injunction to the Romans: ‘Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world around you, but let your behaviour change, modelled by your new mind.’ Let’s wish all the fathers amongst us a very happy and blessed Father’s Day, and let’s pray for all our dads, living and deceased.

  4. Denial of Priesthood to women & the insisting of
    of celibacy for priests undercuts & weakens Pope
    Francis’ argument – we’re reminded of the half
    jocular reminder – ‘He no playeth the game he no
    maketh the rules’
    Diverse routes to ‘Conception’ starting from skin
    cell DNA weakens the procreation argument –
    incubators duplicating the human womb can’t
    be far away.

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