Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has said talks with the White House over a proposed contraception mandate are "going nowhere."

Cardinal Dolan: Pope Francis opened door to gay civil unions debate

NEW YORK (RNS) Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Sunday (March 9) that Pope Francis is asking the Catholic Church to look at the possibility of recognizing civil unions for gay couples, although the archbishop of New York said that he would be “uncomfortable” if the church embraced that position.

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the nation's most prominent Catholic prelate, will deliver the closing blessing to the Republican National Convention in Florida next week. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy Dolan said Pope Francis is asking the Catholic Church to look at the possibility of recognizing civil unions for gay couples, although the archbishop of New York said that he would be “uncomfortable” if the church embraced that position. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

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The Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last week published an interview with the pope in which Francis reiterated the church’s teaching that marriage “is between a man and a woman” while acknowledging that governments want to adopt civil unions for gay couples and others to allow for economic and health benefits, for example.

Francis said the churches in various countries must account for those reasons when formulating public policy positions. “We must consider different cases and evaluate each particular case,” he said.

It was the first time a pope had ever held out the possibility of the church accepting some legal arrangement for same-sex couples, and the remarks prompted a wave of stories, some indicating that the pope had endorsed civil unions or was even signaling an acceptance of gay marriage.

The Vatican quickly clarified that Francis was speaking in general terms and that people “should not try to read more into the pope’s words than what has been stated.”

Asked about civil unions on Sunday (March 9) on NBC's "Meet the Press," Dolan said Francis was telling Catholics that “we need to think about that and look into it and see the reasons that have driven” the public to accept them.

“It wasn't as if he came out and approved them,” said Dolan, the nation's most prominent Catholic bishop and the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. "But Francis was instead saying, 'Rather than quickly condemn them … let's just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people.'”

When host David Gregory asked Dolan if accepting civil unions would make him “uncomfortable,” Dolan said it would because it could “water down” the traditional religious view of marriage.

When he was still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, Francis reportedly tried to negotiate with the Argentine government over the legalization of gay marriage and signaled he would be open to civil unions as an alternative. A number of bishops around the world have said civil unions could be acceptable alternatives to same-sex marriage.

But the issue has special resonance in the U.S., where the fight against gay marriage -- and any recognition of same-sex relationships -- has been a prominent marker for Catholic culture warriors.

In the “Meet the Press” interview, Dolan addressed concerns that Francis was alienating Catholic conservatives who are often the most loyal Mass-goers and some of the biggest donors to the church. The cardinal said he sees “a little angst” but has not found “a lot of massive discontent.”



  1. The Problem: Catholics don’t want to be “Catholic” anymore.

    They know the doctrine does not function – gays deserve a happy life and they are leaving the Church to get married elsewhere. And those Gays take their $$$$ tithing with them to the more liberal churches.
    The dilemma also challenges heterosexuals to ponder the unfairness of Catholicism, which ignorantly calls homosexuality deviant (science says otherwise) and this has been increasing the number of doubters and atheists for many years.

    That is good news for the most liberal churches – very bad news for Catholics.

    Cardinal Dolan is struggling because he has been taught a doctrine (he was told what to believe) and he is not allowed to look outside of that doctrine. One does not need to be a fundamentalist to be intellectually calcified by religious thinking.

    The Pope has also been taught a doctrine, but he has thrown up his arms and allowed himself to look outside of the church doctrine to find a solution. Because in the long run Catholicism is becoming irrelevant in a world where people are deeply disgusted with ‘doctrines’ more generally.

    Al Queda, has a doctrine.
    When they reject the doctrine they become humans again.

    Nation of Islam has a doctrine.
    Whey they reject doctrine they become humans again.

    Islamic Fundamentalists have a doctrine
    When they reject doctrine they become humans again.

    You get the idea. And so does the Pope.
    And that is his problem!

  2. Personally I think the government should ONLY grant Civil Union licenses, the same secular license for everyone insuring the same rights for everyone. BUT I realize the opportunity to pass that idea has come and gone. There was a time when many homosexuals would have been content with that idea, but with all the opposition thrown up denying even that arrangement they switched to an all or nothing position. AND I don’t blame them. The Pope is a bit too late and Cardinal Dolan is simply out of touch.

  3. WTH are you talking about? The government is the only binding authority on the subject of marriage.

    Although a church can officiate a wedding, without the legal permission by the state to stamp the marriage license, it has no meaning outside of one’s religious belief. Our laws never have to take into account the views of various churches on the subject of marriage. Whatever they do behind church doors is their business. What goes on legal documents is everyone’s business.

    The problem with the “they should have been happy with Civil Unions” argument is a civil union was never considered a legal equivalent to marriage. Its rights are a hodgepodge of differing authority based on the state. Essentially it is a “separate but equal” situation. Its not “an all or nothing position”, it is “equality or discriminatory position”.

  4. These are NOT doctrines! They are the teachings, rules and regulations of the church. Catholic doctrine is within the apostles creed along with the assumption of Mary into heaven.
    These teachings which might be linked to biblical stories or quotes, but that does not mean that the teachings on them cannot be changed. Just because Jesus was not active against slavery in the New Testament does not mean we were able to change our thoughts, feelings and teachings on this issue. Please everyone, get a grip on this word doctrine, because the church has let that kind of ignorance be a control stick.

  5. Let’s be honest. Even Cardinal Dolan now understands the truth about this new Pope. You can see it in his words this time.

    Francis is the first de-facto Gay Marriage Pope in history. He is exactly what the radical gay activists have been hoping for — a gay marriage salesman who doesn’t ram it through the front door like Obama does, but instead tiptoes it through the back door and softly puts it next to your kids’ and grandkid’s pillows.

  6. @Annonamous,

    You said, “….but that does not mean that the teachings cannot be changed”

    MY point all along! If you want to do the moral thing, and you KNOW what the moral thing is – WTH do you need the church for !?? 🙂

  7. @Doc,

    Yup. And some of those grandkids will be gay.

  8. Mr. Dolan can go right ahead and discuss civil unions, but the nearly 750,000 legally married American same gender couples aren’t interested in that second-class fake marriage with no rights. Anti-gays, including Dolan, put it in most of their 30-odd anti-gay Hate Votes that same gender American couples couldn’t have ANY legal recognition of their relationships, and that provided evidence to federal courts that these Hate Votes were NOT about “protecting marriage” but were about HATING LGBT Americans. A shrinking minority of Americans are not going to be able to force the majority who support marriage equality to pay for a separate bureaucracy for “civil unions.”

  9. I don’t think it is true to say that those Catholics who support the recognition of civil unions between homosexual couples do so because they don’t want to be Catholic. I’m a devout Catholic and I think there should be some form of recognition. The reason should be clear to Cardinal Dolan. It is the justice of the thing! Love, especially devoted love, should be recognized and celebrated on some level and not to recognize it is an injustice to that love and the human persons who express it. Now, perhaps the love cannot be recognized sacramentally, but we can at least allow civil authorities to clear the way for a recognition which lets all couples enjoy benefits from society in general. I don’t believe such a recognition would water down the concept of traditional marriage any more than a celibate priesthood does. If anything, it would draw a greater focus toward the traditional concept and make us more aware of all the devoted couples living among us.

  10. The problem the Catholic Churches faces time and again is that those in the position to do something are afraid that admitting that the church’s teaching might be wrong will be seen as weakening its authority to teach. So they back into the new reality, pretending nothing has changed, and when time has forgotten the painful disagreement, they rewrite the teaching. This has been a successful strategy for a long time, but the internet has made it unworkable. Now they will have to either double down and eventually loose or risk change. We haven’t seen much courage from the Vatican in centuries; perhaps there is a change in the wind..

  11. Does not “ANNULLMENTS’ water down the marriage vows made before God? The Catholic Church gladly allows annulments to the educated and wealthy. The uneducated and poor cannot go through the two year process.

    May I ask why my church does not support SLAVERY, there is nothing in the Bible that says slavery should be abandoned it only says be good to your slaves. They do not support it because it is inhumane and not allowing homosexuals to have civil unions represented by law giving the same rights as marriage is inhumane.

  12. Only someone who is such a shamelessly “adroit” politician as Tiimothy Dolan can come out with left-handed praise of Pope Francis after spending most of his years eagerly climbing the hierarchy ladder by attempting to please such such contradictions as John Paul and Ratzinger/Benedict before the advent of Francis. Dolan will be anything you want him to be.

    Dolan is a perfect example of the churchman who thrives on “parading in church finery” and strutting about like a “peacock” of whom Francis has had something to say. Dolan does not smell like the sheep even though he loves the 5th Av. vendors’ hot dogs. There is only one US cardinal-bishop who is dancing the same dance now, but who is less good at it, and that is Edmund Burke who is obviously and deservedly losing clout in the curia.

  13. No one should have to go through a church annulment process. Let marriage be a civil arrangement for the legal protections of the partners and any children. The church should get out of the marriage business except for blessings of hope it might provide. The rest is sex and psychology. Celibate churchmen, supposedly, have no experience in the first, and very few have any competency in the latter. Distorting psychological principles to match theology is extremely bad psychology.

  14. Cardinal Dolan displays one of the biggest troubles of any church that aims to be a leader for people who are striving to grow in honesty and other virtues like faith, hope, and charity. Dolan, like so many in the hierarchy, in the words of Francis, does not smell as much “like the sheep” as he does “of the biggest donors to the church,” “often the most loyal Mass goers.”

    I suggest that the reason the numbers of “most loyal Mass goers” is dropping radically, along with the number of priests, in addition to the hiding of the clerical sex scandal, is that the people who used to fill the pews are seeing through the hypocrisy of bishops and other clergy who, again according to Francis, “parade in church finery like peacocks.” They know where the money is and they cater to money rather than smelling like sheep in pursuing the precepts of Jesus.

    While Dolan laments changes like same-sex marriage that improved learning demand, while he tries to impress his big money sources by defending old and out-of-date notions just because they have been around for a long time, the smelly sheep are wandering out the doors in search of a better place where their “odor of sanctity” is not so offensive, a place where they can find leaders who “smell” more like them.

    Of course, Timothy Dolan needs lots of bucks to finish his renovation of St. Patrick Cathedral, a palace for the oligarchy. He already ruined the front by adding that shelter against the elements for his rich communicants. Remember how he stood out there–without shelter–glad-handing and high-fiving all those oligarchs after his installation on the throne? He also wishes–so he says–that he could follow another example of Francis and live in less swanky digs than the archbishop’s mansion behind St. Patrick Cathedral.

    Dolan has always been a climbing cleric even though he puts on a New York street front. He may eat 5th Av. vendors’ hot dogs, but he knew very well how to please John Paul and Benedict, and now he’s trapped in pleasing the other “royals” rather than those who inhabit ordinary stables.

  15. What one can really see in Dolan’s behavior–if one pays close attention over time to church politics–is that Dolan is now taking a back seat to Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston. I’m sure that smarts for someone like Dolan. But O’Malley didn’t try any dirty tricks like Dolan by hiding diocesan funds in cemetery endowments when Dolan was bishop of Milwaukee in order to avoid paying court-ordered awards to victims of clerical sex abuse. So much for sin, especially “sins of the flesh,” right?

    Also, don’t overlook the church politics. Right after Benedict transferred Dolan to New York for being so good in Milwaukee, the long routine of the Catholic bishops’ conference of moving their vice-president automatically into the presidency at the termination of the previous president’s tenure was interrupted by the appointment of Dolan as president. His term just ended last November. Smells more like Vatican politics than the aroma coming from a stable of sheep,doesn’t it?

  16. Larry: There are two different aspects to marriage, civil and religious. Civil law protects spouses and children when it comes to civil laws. Religious clerics are authorized to be both the civil and religious officiant for those who wish to marry in a religious ceremony. That is a convenience to avoid the necessity of going through both a civil and religious ceremony.

    Civil laws trump any religious canons when it comes to the civil aspects of a marriage. Problems only arise for those who submit to religious canons as a second regulation about their marriage. Religious organizations may demand compliance with their canons for continuing membership or full participation, as with the Catholic Church. However, there is no civil law obligation regarding that.

    It’s the same nonsense with the fuss many religious organizations and people are screaming about contraception and abortion. No one is forced to use contraception, and no one is forced to have an abortion. Too many religious people, especially people like the owners of Hobby Lobby and many politicians, are violating the Constitution of the United States when they assert their religious beliefs as grounds to interfere with out laws and constitutional rights by forcing others to comply with their beliefs. No state should be allowed to get away with such violations, but with a Catholic Supreme Court as we now have, democracy and the Constitution are meaningless.

  17. Correction: Last paragraph: “with our laws,” not “with out laws.”

    It would be good if RNS provided an edit option so commenters could return and correct errors that notice after posting their comment–as above.

  18. Unfortunately, you are correct. That’s why Francis’s back-door endorsement of civil unions is REALLY a back-door endorsement of gay marriage. Francis knows it, Dolan knows it, the media knows it, and for certain, the radical gay activists know it.

    Would anybody be offended if the suggestion was made to IMPEACH Pope Francis? Immediately?

  19. Anonymous, Mar 10th, says: “Catholic doctrine is within the apostles creed along with the assumption of Mary into heaven.” Neither the apostles’ creed nor the assumption of Mary into Heaven is what Jesus taught. These teachings were formulated long after the life of Jesus. When I was a good Catholic boy, aged about 13 years…………we were told that it was optional to believe that Mary was assumed into Heaven. Then came the day (in the early 1950s) when we were told that the Pope had decreed that this teaching was now obligatory. We HAD to believe it…..and the 15th August, the feast day of the Assumption, became a holy day of obligation and Catholics were now obliged to attend mass on that day under pain of mortal sin. So, one day belief in a teaching is optional, the next day it’s mandatory! What does that say about the Church’s teachings?

  20. I wouldn’t call it “understanding,” I’d call it a vain effort to defend his past when he climbed so hard and so readily to New York under John Paul and Ratzinger-Benedict. He’s like Cardinal Edmund Burke, he can’t come right out and praise Francis with an un-forked tongue, so he does it with a twist. What’s Francis going to do, fire the cardinal archbishop of New York? He could only get Dolan out of NY by promoting him to the Vatican, and he certainly wouldn’t want him there. We wouldn’t, either. There’s enough Romanita corruption in the curia already.

  21. Anything Cardinal Dolan and Pope Frankie say about civil unions is just blowing hot air. They have zero authority on the subject. The only thing they have a say in, is the nature of a Catholic wedding ceremony. Only of concern to Catholics getting married in a church. Nobody else is under any compulsion to take their views on the subject seriously.

  22. Larry I think the Catholic Church still yields a great deal of influence whether it is legitimate or not. I agree that NO ONE should be forced to live by another person’s belief system, that is why we have a secular government, not a religious one. I also am aware that the influence of the Catholic Church (or any church/Religion) can be for the benefit of society or for the detriment of society. They are part of the problem, with their doctrines/dogmas and position on public issues. OR as I said they could do so much to benefit society, help create that peaceful, more just (kingdom of the good). This is why the Popes pronouncements matter (as well as the comments and pronouncements of other church leaders, Mullahs and Ayatollahs and Rabbis and Gurus…….).

  23. God knows we can’t have Dolan uncomfortable.
    What a fool – does he even know how rich gay men would love to give him stipends for marrying them in the Church.

  24. Ten years from now, this will seem like a silly debate. There was a time when the church was against women having the right to vote. This is out of the bag – if the Catholic Church wants to be relevant, it will have to find pastoral ways of being inclusive while also respecting traditional theology. Should we demand that to be Catholic, we should speak in the language of Jesus – Aramaic? So many sound bites – Fortunately, Dolan doesn’t speak for the Vatican but only his Archdiocese.

  25. Dan Savage said it best:

    “But now that we’re winning marriage—now that victory is assured—the pope is willing to maybe think about supporting some type of civil union scheme. I’ll say to the pope what I said to my evangelical Christian pal: that f****ng ship has f****ng sailed. What the pope is saying to gay people in 2014 is this: “Okay, now that you’re winning marriage, here’s an idea: give marriage back and we will give you civil unions… which we once opposed with the same intensity and in the same apocalyptic terms that we oppose marriage today. Is it a deal?”

    No deal, Francis.”

  26. Where is the fear of God. Who in his right mind dares to to go contrary to the word of God? God has said in Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”
    Leviticus 20:13 “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their blood guiltiness is upon them.”
    And in Romans 1: 18-32 “ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are with out excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculation, and their foolish hart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and birds and four footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lust of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passion; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of Go, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinances of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”

  27. And whats wrong with that? 2000 years of suffering by gay people at the hands of the church, but fortunately that is beginning to change

  28. I bet some would call for a new holy inquistion re gays.

    Call hitler a racist fi you wish but the holocaust of the jews , and yes the gays was due to the churches hatred of them
    Hitler, Eichmann, Himmler, Goebbels and Mengele were all cath, went to catholic schools run by the state where hatred waa a key teaching.

  29. Out of touch? Out of touch with whom? With the world? So………….if the world decides to commit suicide, the Church of Christ goes with it?

  30. Good comment! Humans often forget that in the desire to make God more palatable, that we make ourselves less like our creator and more like perverse human beings. God doesn’t change just because the culture does. At this rate, pedophilia will be declared legal, safe and healthy 50 years from now. The argument will be that it is good for kids and that if both parties (or more than that ) enjoy the activity, then it is safe and healthy.

  31. It is a fine line between love and judgement: Certainly not an easy line to walk! Although we have no idea what it is like to have same sex attraction, we also don’t know what it is like to want to steal or to abuse others. However, we don’t condone these behaviors and we encourage treatment for them. Until 1973, homosexual behavior was considered disordered. Unfortunately those with same sex attraction may think that we are labeling them as a disorder, when they are human like the rest of us. It is so important that they realize how loved they are- like one who struggles with addictions or any other difficulty. They are precious in God’s eyes. But the behavior is harmful and can even cause death. Out of love, we want them to live freely, happily and chastely. It is the only path to true peace.

  32. What a bald faced lie. The Nazis were anti-Catholic bigots like so many gays.

  33. While I recognize your points Atheist Max, a true fundamental catholic (fundamental in the literal sense of the word, not fundamentalist) would believe that God has love for all, and all deserved deserved to be love. In saying this, civil unions are an alternative that I personally believe an option for the Catholic Church and Churches everywhere. A Catholic does not believe word for word everything the bible says, and especially in the old testament there are particular cases where one cannot fail to recognise a severity and harshness that is not generally seen in the new.

    Think of this, technically the Church’s wedding has no “legal” power, you get a marriage license separately. The Church upholds every right not to allow people of the same gender to get married in their own church, this is separation of church and state in its simplest form, but this does not mean we cannot support a “civil union” for gay people. Yes, every Church worldwide has view on the morality of subjects that will change over time, secularism and common sense will do that. There is this view on Catholics that seems to make it to the normal population the most conservative, when in fact 49% of white Catholics are in fact democrats. Pope Francis is not “throwing up his hands” but rather encouraging the most important thing Jesus taught, “though shall love they neighbor as thyself.”

    I welcome any respectful discussion
    -An educated teenage catholic

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