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Pope’s support of same-sex civil unions spreads to Madison area

Published: Oct. 21, 2020 at 10:40 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A historic message from the Vatican supporting same-sex civil unions is spreading to Catholics all over the world, including the Madison area.

Pope Francis became the first in the Church’s history to endorse the unions, as quoted in a documentary called “Francesco” that premiered Wednesday. “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said in the feature. “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.”

“You feel Francis and the Church—instead of pushing you away, giving you a big hug, and that makes a world of difference,” Charles McLimans, the CEO of the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, said.

McLimans, who is gay and Catholic, said he and his husband were embraced at the monastery. (Though Holy Wisdom has no formal ties with the Church, it has a Catholic heritage.) McLimans admitted, not all Church leaders have supported the LGBTQ community. After reading about Pope Benedict XVI’s view of homosexuality, McLimans shared that he abandoned his journey towards priesthood.

“It’s many colors of the rainbow-- that’s how God created us,” McLimans said. “[Pope Francis’s] affirmation of that is definitely a very welcome pastoral change in tone.”

According to Matthew Sargent, who teaches sociology of religion at Madison College, Francis has shown his support for civil unions over the years, but never as pope.

“In this respect this isn’t new,” he said. “But what is momentous is this overwhelming support that he’s provided in terms of this as a public statement, and it is as pope and not as archbishop. There is more magnitude in his words.”

Sargent said that Francis is not talking about marriage equality, adding, “I think what we can take away from this is a growing tolerance and a growing understanding of the state and of legal matters of wanting to protect and to nurture all individuals and to prevent or limit any sort of discrimination the state might play.”

Some Catholic leaders responded with criticism. Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, said in a statement, “The pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex union.” He added, “The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.”

Ed Mechmann, director of public policy at the Archdiocese of New York, wrote that the pope had “made a serious mistake.”

Meanwhile, executive director Steve Starky of Madison’s OutReach LGBTQ+ Community Center wrote to NBC15 in part, “The Pope’s continued support for LGBTQ rights helps to move Christians to be more inclusive and accepting. Pope Francis’s statement does not change Catholic doctrine but does help change the minds of many Christians.”

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