A LEADING cardinal has said that same-sex relationships should be respected and recognised in law amid signs of a sea change in church thinking on the subject.
Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the Archbishop of Vienna, made the remarks in a lecture to a gathering of leading English Catholics in central London this week Two other cardinals have recently suggested the Church should not oppose same-sex civil unions. But they and Cardinal Schonborn have stressed that same-sex relationships should not be equated with marriage.
"There can be same-sex partnerships and they need respect, and even civil law protection. Yes, but please keep it away from the notion of marriage. Because the definition of marriage is the stable union between a man and a woman open to life," Cardinal Schonborn said in a lecture at the National Gallery on Monday evening entitled: "Christianity: Alien Presence or Foundation of the West?"
'We should be clear about terms and respect the needs of people living in a partnership together. The new Austrian law on same-sex partnership is very respectful but clearly distinguishes this situation from marriage," the cardinal added at the lecture hosted by philanthropist and financier Michael Hintze. In Colombia where the Government is considering the legalisation of gay marriage,
Cardinal Ruben Salazar has also said he is not opposed to same-sex unions.
"Other unions have the right to exist, no one can ask them not to, but they should not be equated to marriage. They should not try to take on the role of a family, that is where the social order becomes subverted," he said.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, reportedly expressed similar sentiments to his fellow bishops in Argentina in 2010 during the Church's campaign against the country's plans to legalise gay marriage.
But in 2003, the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a document opposing the recognition of same-sex civil partnerships. "Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity," the document "Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons" stated. Attitudes also seem to be softening among some US prelates on allowing civil rights for gay couples. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, retired Archbishop of Washington, suggested in an interview over the Easter weekend that the Church should consider supporting samesex civil unions as an alternative to same-sex
marriage. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the US bishops' conference, did not go as far as Cardinal McCarrick but said in a nationally televised interview on Easter Sunday: 'We've got to do better to see our defence of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people. I admit we haven't been too good at that." In Detroit, however, Archbishop Allen Vigneron raised the spectre of denying Communion to supporters of samesex marriage. "For a Catholic to receive Holy Communion and still deny the revelation Christ entrusted to the Church is to try to say two contradictory things," he said.
While the Bishops of England and Wales opposed civil partnerships at the time of their implementation, in the run-up to the debate on same-sex marriage the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, suggested civil partnerships provide "protection and legal provision" for same-sex couples. He later clarified his remarks to say that he was simply "recognising the existence" of legal arrangements for same-sex couples.
Additional reporting by Michael Sean Winters, Jon Stibbs and Isabel de Bertodano.