A theologian has said that the Church can no longer refuse to bless same-gender relationships after the Pope’s backing of gay civil unions.

– Prior Church condemnations of homosexuality as sinful “obviously not the last word”

“The condemnation without exception of a homosexual relationship as sinful is obviously not the last word of the Church on the matter”, Martin M. Lintner. a professor of moral theology at the Philosophical-Theological University of Brixen-Bressanone, in the South Tyrol region of northern Italy, told katholisch.de in an interview October 24.

Lintner was referring to the Pope’s comments in a new documentary released October 21, in which the pontiff explicitly states that “homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to have is a civil union law – that way they are legally covered”.

“I supported that”, Francis adds, referring to support for civil unions that he voiced as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and again in an interview as Pope in 2017.

– “A sign that a rethinking is taking place at the level of the Church’s teaching authority”

Lintner analysed where the Pope’s comments might have come from, what they mean right now and where they might lead in the future.

Francis’ latest show of support for civil unions “once again clearly shows his turning to people”, the theologian explained, situating the Pope’s thought in the line of his 2016 post-synodal apostolic exhortation on love in the family, Amoris laetitia.

“He no longer starts out from Catholic doctrine as a first step, and no longer judges people solely on whether or not they conform to it”, but instead and first of all “focuses on people with their needs and their efforts to shape their lives responsibly”, Lintner pointed out.

Theological concerns aside, the professor added that the Pope is speaking up on civil unions because he has realised through his “personal sensitivity” about “the unfortunate experiences of many homosexuals”, including of discrimination and persecution.

Not that the Pope’s civil unions support is just a pastoral issue, however. Lintner said he was also taking it “as a sign that a rethinking is taking place on this matter at the level of the Church’s teaching authority”.

“The decisive thing for me in this case is that the Pope, as the highest teaching authority in the Church, shows a very clear awareness of the problem by saying that the Church must also stand up for homosexual rights”, the academic explained.

He added that “so far, the official Church line has been to fight discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation”. “Standing up for their rights goes beyond that”, Lintner observed.

– “Francis clearly goes beyond the traditional teaching of the Church”

So it is that for Lintner “Francis clearly goes beyond the traditional teaching of the Church” in his explicit support for same-gender civil unions.

“When he says that the Church has to stand up for the rights” of gay people, “and also for the fact that they can live in a civil partnership, he is implying that he also allows these people to live in an intimate partnership”, the theologian explained, stressing that “the Church cannot then so easily put that in the corner of sinfulness”.

“You cannot demand a legal possibility for something which you reject in and of itself and condemn as sin. So he is already taking a significant step forward”, Lintner highlighted.

Stressing that from the perspective of today’s world and the advances of scholarly exegesis “the biblical statements on homosexuality no longer provide a foundation for condemning same-gender partnerships”, the theologian insisted that in light of the Pope’s latest comments the derisory attitude towards homosexuals in large parts of the Church is no longer tenable.

“As an interview statement, it is not initially of great importance in terms of teaching authority”, Lintner recognised.

“But perhaps it will set in motion a process that will make more fruitful what has already been worked out on the moral-theological level thanks to human scientific knowledge and on the basis of exegetical insights, but which has not been taken note of”, the theologian continued, referring to the widespread normalisation of homosexuality in modern medicine and biblical interpretation.

After the Pope’s comments, “I now consider the refusal of the teaching authority to enter into dialogue about what has been reflected on theologically and morally-theologically to be obsolete”, Lintner declared.

“Moreover, it is time that we overcome often contradictory Church statements about homosexuality”, for example in the Catechism, he said.

“On the one hand, sexual abstinence has been demanded of these people, but on the other hand it has been suggested that they are not capable of it, but rather are promiscuously oriented or incapable of entering into stable relationships. Such statements are very hurtful for homosexuals”.

More on Novena on the Pope’s support for same-gender civil unions:

Pope Francis’ support for civil unions is a call to justice

“An historic moment”: LGBT ministry “gratefully welcomes” Pope’s support for same-gender civil unions, seeks same recognition in Church

‘We Are Church’ Ireland “warmly welcomes… wonderful news”, “hugely significant step” of Francis’ support for civil unions

In new documentary, Pope endorses same-gender civil unions: “Homosexuals are children of God and have a right to a family”


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.