266th pope of the Catholic Church | Wikipedia Commons

Pope Francis made head­lines around the world last week when he seemed to endorse civil unions for same-sex couples, leading many Hillsdale Catholics to question his words and intentions.

“Catholics may be rightly annoyed by the con­fusion caused by Pope Francis’s recent remarks, but they should not be worried,” Nathan Schlueter, who teaches courses on Roman Catholic the­ology as pro­fessor of phi­losophy and religion, said in an email. 

“Offhand remarks taken out of context in a private doc­u­mentary have no bearing on clear church teaching on sex­u­ality and mar­riage, which has been clearly and explicitly affirmed by Francis himself in mul­tiple ways,” Schlueter added. “Faithful Catholics need to be reminded that popes are not popes because they are perfect — look at St. Peter.”

The pope made his remarks in a new doc­u­mentary, “Francesco,” which pre­miered at the Rome Film Fes­tival on Oct. 21. 

“Homo­sexual people have the right to be in a family,” he says in the film, according to the New York Times and numerous other outlets. “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 create is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”

The main­stream media lauded the pope’s com­ments as a step forward for the Catholic Church regarding homo­sex­u­ality, and many implied that it may signal a reversal of the church’s teaching that mar­riage is exclu­sively between one man and one woman.

Catholic doc­trine dis­tin­guishes between offhand remarks in inter­views and con­ver­sa­tions and the concept of papal of infal­li­bility. In spe­cific, limited cir­cum­stances, the pope is said to be unable to speak falsely on matters of dogma, a statement called “ex cathedra,” meaning “from the chair.” While the­olo­gians debate how many papal state­ments have been made ex cathedra, most agree that it has only hap­pened twice in the history of the Church.

According to Catholic Society pres­ident junior Karl Weisen­burger, while Catholics should interpret any statement of the pope’s with charity, they are not obligated to make it fit within tra­di­tional orthodoxy unless it is spoken ex cathedra. 

“I think it sets a bad precedent to think that every single time the pope says some­thing off the cuff, you have to interpret it in a Catholic framework,” Weisen­burger said. “I think it’s char­i­table to do that, and maybe you will be called to do that, but that’s not what we have to do.” 

He also empha­sized that there’s no need to worry about the pope straying from dogma if he actually is speaking ex cathedra.

“We don’t need to be con­cerned about him breaking doc­trine while speaking infal­libly because that can’t happen,” Weisen­burger con­tinued. “So the concern is really that he’s leading the lay faithful to con­fusion, which is what you should pray about. When you pray for the pope, you don’t need to pray that he’s going to speak infal­libly and not break doc­trine, because that can’t happen. What you pray for is that the laity isn’t con­fused by his off the cuff statements.”

Junior David Strobach, vice pres­ident of Catholic Society, con­curred, and added that the full context of the statement isn’t clear.

“He has a very good precedent of sticking to orthodoxy, but in this case it just seems lost in trans­lation,” Strobach said. “It’s kind of a cherry-picked comment, and we don’t know the whole context; we don’t know the full nuance, we don’t even know what he means by this statement.”

Some Catholics said they believe that even though this statement doesn’t change church doc­trine, it is indicative of a more wel­coming stance toward LGBT people.

“This is an his­toric step forward for the church in its rela­tionship with LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ Catholics,” Rev. James Martin, an influ­ential Jesuit priest, said on Facebook. 

Pope Francis has been firm in oppo­sition to same-sex mar­riage in the past. 

He wrote in his encyclical “Amoris Laetitia” in 2016 that “there are absolutely no grounds for con­sid­ering homo­sexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely anal­ogous to God’s plan for mar­riage and family.”