Some 92 percent of Filipinos are said to be Christians and most of them – 81 percent – are Roman Catholic, a legacy of the 350 years of Spanish colonial rule in the country.
The Americans who came in 1898 may have deeply influenced everything else in the nation’s life – its government and politics, its social organizations, its economy, etc. – but most Filipinos are firmly Catholic, going to church every Sunday to hear Mass and celebrating fiestas in honor of various saints.
Last Wednesday, Pope Francis, in a new documentary, voiced support for laws recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples with legal rights covering various situations of coexistence. He said homosexual people “are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over that. We have to have a law of civil union – they have a right to be legally protected.”
He stressed that the civil union he spoke of is different from marriage which, he said, is “between a man and a woman.”
Pope Francis’ position on civil unions contrasts with a 2003 document prepared by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was to become Pope Benedict VI. Official recognition for gay people, the body said, “could devalue the institution of marriage.” Pope Benedict VI later stepped down from the papacy, to be succeeded by Pope Francis.
Conservative elements in the Church have long opposed any recognition of same-sex unions as encouraging homosexual acts. Following the report on Pope Francis supporting civil unions for gay couples, Sorsogon Archbishop Arturo Bastes said he was “really scandalized” by the Pope’s statement. Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon said media may have misinterpreted the Pope’s statement.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte has long said he favors a law recognizing the civil union of same-sex relationships. In Congress, Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte has a bill “Civil Partnership Act” – House Bill 2264 – that has not made much progress because of the firm opposition of Church officials.
The LGBTQ community – for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer – has welcomed the Pope’s statement and hope it will help pave the way for Congress to allow a civil union – not marriage – that will give them rights such as children’s education and inheritance normally enjoyed by ordinary families.
With even the Pope supporting such civil unions, even the most conservative of Catholics in Congress should no longer have a basis for objecting, Secretary Roque said. Still, it is not easy to shift the thinking of Church officials, here or in Rome and elsewhere in the world. And it will not be easy to move our congressmen and senators to enact a law that is weighed down by the conservative legacy of the Church in Philippine society.