Pope Advocated Civil Unions in Argentina?

The New York Times has a very interesting report that the new pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, supported civil unions for gay couples in Argentina as a pragmatic means of stopping a drive for true marriage equality in that country (they legalized full marriage equality anyway).

But behind the scenes, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who led the public charge against the measure, spoke out in a heated meeting of bishops in 2010 and advocated a highly unorthodox solution: that the church in Argentina support the idea of civil unions for gay couples.

The concession inflamed the gathering — and offers a telling insight into the leadership style he may now bring to the papacy.

Few would suggest that Cardinal Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is anything but a stalwart who fully embraces the church’s positions on core social issues. But as he faced one of the most acute tests of his tenure as head of Argentina’s church, he showed another side as well, supporters and critics say: that of a deal maker willing to compromise and court opposing sides in the debate, detractors included…

Faced with the near certain passage of the gay marriage bill, Cardinal Bergoglio offered the civil union compromise as the “lesser of two evils,” said Sergio Rubin, his authorized biographer. “He wagered on a position of greater dialogue with society.”

In the end, though, a majority of the bishops voted to overrule him, his only such loss in his six-year tenure as head of Argentina’s bishops’ conference. But throughout the contentious political debate, he acted as both the public face of the opposition to the law and as a bridge-builder, sometimes reaching out to his critics.

“He listened to my views with a great deal of respect,” said Marcelo Márquez, a gay rights leader and theologian who wrote a tough letter to Cardinal Bergoglio and, to his surprise, received a call from him less than an hour after it was delivered. “He told me that homosexuals need to have recognized rights and that he supported civil unions, but not same-sex marriage.”

Now that obviously doesn’t make the pope a wonderful guy, but it does stand in pretty sharp contrast to Pope Benedict XVI, who was all about being absolutely dogmatic in his attachment to church doctrine. And that tendency to want to compromise a bit could foretell a more reasonable papacy. Only time will tell, of course.


  1. jamessweet says

    Interesting if true. Just like you say, it doesn’t make him any less of a douchebag, but it could mean that the practical outcome of his douchebaggery is less severe than that of past popes. Maybe. Or it could just mean he’s wily (I mean, if the other bishops had listened to him, maybe Argentina wouldn’t have full marriage equality now?)

  2. says

    …he showed another side as well…that of a deal maker willing to compromise and court opposing sides in the debate, detractors included…

    He was certainly willing to compromise with a murderous military junta.

  3. says

    I concur with Jamessweet. It appears that Pope Ilovesmesomejunta saw the lurid, purple handwriting on the wall and opted for damage control. The story is also instructive that Latin America, the last, best hope for civilized people to embrace the RCC (Africa is not civilized, how could it be, it’s BLACK!) is not so in thrall to the Vatican that they can’t understand reality.

  4. says

    To draw an analogy from US politics…. Maladict was a Tea Party Talibangelical who demanded that every conception result in a live birth regardless of whether or not the mother surived. Frankie is a “compassionate conservative open to compromise” who is willing to consider allowing women to have abortions in cases of life-threatening complications provided that the woman endure a 72 hour waiting period, two transvaginal ultrasounds and one sermon on the sanctity of life and how she is going to BURN IN HELL FOREVER if she goes through with this.

  5. Ben P says

    Considering the chance of the college of cardinals (70 some old white virgins men who’ve taken a vow of chastity, most of whom were appointed by Benedict) would appoint an actual progressive was virtually nil, I suppose you take what you can get.

  6. Didaktylos says

    Basically, if a loaded gun is pointed at him, Bergoglio is prepared to negotiate in private.

  7. abb3w says

    That sounds quite progressive, for a guy that the College of Cardinals could agree to. Francis might be willing to lighten up.

    I think they’ll have to settle for “civil marriage” being distinguished from a “church marriage”, and that there will be a fight about what kinds of groups can discriminate in hiring gays due to religious objections (“ministerial exemption” will remain for church priests, preachers, deacons, and the like, and probably for teachers at religious schools; possibly to religious institutiions generally, such as church-run hospitals; unlikely for the religious who control businesses engaged in mundane commerce), and whether they can discriminate in extending spousal benefits to those in non-church civil marriages (no).

    I expect much howling, lamentation, and gnashing of teeth before they accept that, though.

  8. whheydt says

    Re: abb3w @ #8:

    I suspect the “bright line” of where the discrimination can take place will be the point at which the organization hires people who aren’t members of the religion in question. That is, if a hospital hires *only* RCC doctors, nurses and staff, *then* (and only then) they can discriminate. As soon as they are willing to hire someone who isn’t RCC, the full force of anti-discrimination laws kick in. Good luck fully staffing a hospital with *only* RCC adherents.

  9. says

    @whheydt #9 – Even that is problematic: under US law, an employer can discriminate on the basis of religion ONLY if the job itself is religious in nature, such as requiring the employee to be an ordained priest or a vowed nun. If you are hiring janitors or orderlies or personnel to change bed pans or check blood pressure, you are not allowed to ask about that person’s religion, in any way.

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