One pope, a few words, and many interpretations

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One pope, a few words, and many interpretations

In October 2020, a documentary was released in which Pope Francis expressed himself on LGBTQ+ couples. How was this news received across Europe?

Francesco, a new documentary about the life of Pope Francis, has led to much attention from newspapers worldwide, especially regarding one of the statements that it contained. In one segment, it appeared Pope Francis supported calling for registered partnerships or civil unions for LGBTQ+ couples.[1] His words, translated into English, were:

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”[2]

This article gives a short overview to see how exactly this news was perceived by different countries across Europe. It is an example of how the EARS dashboard can help you find different viewpoints from a variety of different countries.

In the north
In Scandinavia, the pope’s message was received pretty positively. Danish news site Politiken (a politics-focused news site) stated that it was the clearest stand the pope had ever taken on LGBTQ+ matters: homosexuals should be allowed to form a family and registered partnership should be granted.[3] In Norway, newspapers such as the national public broadcaster NRK spoke of Pope Francis advocating in favour of permitted partnerships for LGBTQ+ couples. They also speculated whether the pope had changed his mind given his words against gays in the past.[4] The largest liberal newspaper of Finland, Helsingin Sanomat, took it one step further: although it might not lead to a change in the Catholic Church’s marriage theology in general, could this be a possibility to advance LGBTQ+ rights in the Catholic Church?[5]

English-speaking countries
In the United Kingdom, the politically centre-left newspaper The Mirror linked the pope’s statement to one of his earlier comments on how LGBTQ+ people are also God’s children and therefore loved by God.[6] The Guardian (also left-wing and more social/liberal) did not report on earlier comments by Pope Francis, but wrote that the pope’s statements on LGBTQ+ civil unions were warmly welcomed by LGBTQ+ communities in the UK. However, the Guardian also reported that not all were happy. The pope’s critics made it clear that they did not like the perceived attempt of moving in a more progressive direction.[7]

According to the Independent, another left-leaning British newspaper, the pope’s announcement was not received positively by Catholic institutions in the United States. Bishops have responded that it is not in line with what the Catholic Church has been teaching for years and that LGBTQ+ unions cannot be supported by the Church.[8]

The Baltic states
The news of the pope’s statements also reached the Baltic states, like Lithuania. However, LRT, the country’s largest public broadcaster, wrote about a ‘cold reception’ of the pope’s words. Same-sex unions are not recognised in the country, and representatives of the Catholic Church in Lithuania have resisted any attempt to introduce such unions. Furthermore, the pope’s statements are not thought of as the official doctrine of the Church, and thus, the Church will change neither their dogma nor their perspective on civil unions.[9]

Southern Europe
While reports in the northern part of Europe seemed quite positive on the pope’s message, they were more reserved in the south. For example, the large religious reporter from Spain, Vida Nueva Digital,reported that Louis Arguello, the secretary-general of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, qualified the pope’s words by stating that he did not mean that LGBTQ+ couples could get married. Instead, couples can only receive the same legal protection as other civil unions.[10]

Like in northern Europe, comments on the pope’s stand were positive at first in Italy. On October 21 2020, the large independent newspaper Il Corriere della Sera announced the pope to be in favour of LGBTQ+ couples’ unions and families.[11] La Repubblica, taking a more centre-left stance,reported Francis’s words that “they [LGBTQ+] are also children of God.”[12] However, not all were this positive. One day later, another large independent newspaper, Il fatto quotidiano, reported that Massimiliano Menichetti, the head of the multimedia publishing centre of the Vatican, wanted the statement by the pope on LGBTQ+ unions to be censored. Strikingly, Pope Francis had given the makers of the documentary his blessing at the same time.[13] In short, Italy’s opinion was a bit mixed overall.

And the Vatican itself?
The Vatican responded by explicitely stating that the opinion of the Catholic Church on homosexuals and same-sex marriages would not change. According to them, the media misleadingly used two different statements from the documentary without the right context. Therefore, though it seemed that something revolutionary had taken place, that was not the case.[14] Even so, why is it important to have an overview of how the pope’s words were received throughout Europe? What does it tell us? It is clear that everything the pope says and does is looked at with a magnifying glass.

In a world where topics such as gender equality, gender neutrality, and LGBTQ+ issues are more often on the table, words like these coming from the highest person within the Christian religious hierarchy could be used as a confirmation that LGBTQ+ have a right to civil union as much as others – especially looking at reports from more liberal newspapers. However, the Vatican and more conservative newspapers toning the news down is not surprising, as their principle dogma will not be changed and so for now, there will be little change for LGBTQ+ couples, if any at all.

Astrid Hamberg

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[1] Paus bepleit in documentaire opnieuw geregistreerd partnerschap voor homo’s

[2] Pope Francis did NOT give support to gay civil unions, Vatican says

[3] Paven har aldrig været mere klar i mælet: Homoseksuelle har ret til en familie

[4] Paven seier ja til borgarleg partnarskap for homofile

[5] Paavi Franciscus kertoi hyväksyvänsä samaa sukupuolta olevien siviili­liitot, suomalais­tutkijan mukaan lausunto on merkittävä etenkin Afrikan maiden homo­seksuaaleille

[6] Pope tells LGBTQ+ parents God loves their children ‘as they are’

[7] Pope Francis backs same-sex civil unions | World news

[8] US reactions to pope backing same-sex civil unions: ‘The Church cannot support objectively immoral relationships’

[9] Pope’s same-sex partnership endorsement gets cold reception in Lithuania

[10] Luis Argüello califica de “presunto” el apoyo del papa Francisco a las uniones civiles homosexuales

[11] Papa Francesco, favorevole a unioni civili per coppie omosessuali

[12] Coppie gay, papa Francesco: “Sì a legge sulle unioni civili”

[13] Papa Francesco censurato dal Vaticano sulle unioni civili. E le sue frasi rivoluzionarie tagliate ad hoc

[14] Vatican moves to clarify pope’s comments on civil union laws

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