Argentine Archbishop and Pope Francis Advisor: ‘Civil Union’ Not Mistranslated in Documentary

In an October 21 social media post, Fr. Torres said the original Spanish makes clear that the pope’s comments are not an endorsement of civil unions.

Pope Francis preaches at a Mass for the Vatican Gendarmerie Sept. 26, 2020.
Pope Francis preaches at a Mass for the Vatican Gendarmerie Sept. 26, 2020. (photo: Courtesy photo / Vatican Media)

ROME — Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, a long-time theological advisor to Pope Francis, has weighed in on the meaning of a phrase used by the pope in a video clip in Francesco, a documentary released Wednesday in Rome. The phrase, which is translated as “civil unions,” is at the center of a series of controversies about the documentary.

Francesco, a newly released documentary on the life and ministry of Pope Francis, made global headlines this week, because the pope appears to call for civil union legislation, in contrast to the positions of his predecessors.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope is seen to say in the documentary, during a scene in which Pope Francis talks about pastoral care for those who identify as LGBT.

The pope is seen to use the Spanish-language phrase convivencia civil, which is translated in the film’s subtitles as “civil union.” After some Spanish-speaking priests said the translation was inaccurate, Archbishop Fernandez, a theologian who has long been close to the pope, said that the pope’s phrase is substantially equivalent to the phrase “civil union.”

Fr. Augustino Torres, a New York-based priest who works in youth ministry, posted a video on Wednesday saying he believes “the pope was misunderstood, misquoted, misinterpreted.”

In an October 21 post on Instagram, Fr. Torres said the original Spanish makes clear that the pope’s comments are not an endorsement of civil unions.

The priest said the phrase that has been translated by the media as “civil union” is actually better translated as “law of civil convivience” or “civil coexistence.”

By using this phrase, Fr. Torres said, Pope Francis is talking about some kind of legal protection, which the priest did not specify, but not a homosexual civil union.

But Archbishop Fernández, Archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, said Wednesday that the pope’s term connotes a civil union as the term is commonly understood.

The archbishop posted on Facebook that before he became pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio “always recognized that, without calling it ‘marriage,’ in fact there are very close unions between people of the same sex, which do not in themselves imply sexual relations, but a very intense and stable alliance.”

“They know each other thoroughly, they share the same roof for many years, they take care of each other, they sacrifice for each other. Then it may happen that they prefer that in an extreme case or illness they do not consult their relatives, but that person who knows their intentions in depth. And for the same reason they prefer that it be that person who inherits all their assets, etc.”

“This can be contemplated in the law and is called ‘civil union’ [unión civil] or ‘law of civil coexistence’ [ley de convivencia civil], not marriage.”

“What the Pope has said on this subject is what he also maintained when he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires,” Archbishop Fernández added.

“For him, the expression ‘marriage’ has a precise meaning and only applies to a stable union between a man and a woman open to communicating life…there is a word, ‘marriage,’ that only applies to that reality. Any other similar union requires another name,” the archbishop explained.

Archbishop Fernandez said this view reflects the pope’s stance as a bishop in Argentina, when he proposed to brother bishops, during a 2010 debate over gay marriage in the country, that accepting civil unions might be a way to prevent the passage of same-sex marriage laws in the country.

The Vatican has not responded to questions about the documentary, or whether the pope’s comments represent his view on civil unions, but the prefect of the Vatican’s communications office, Paolo Ruffini, has seen the documentary and praised it.