Beliefs Culture Ethics

Pope Francis calls traditional marriage an icon of God’s love

Pope Francis passes a crucifix as he walks down steps during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 4. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic New Service

ROME (RNS) Pope Francis stressed the importance of marriage between a man and a woman at his general audience at the Vatican on Wednesday (April 2), saying the two were united in “one flesh” as “icons of God’s love.”

Pope Francis passes a crucifix as he walks down steps during his general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican Dec. 4. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic New Service

Pope Francis passes a crucifix as he walks down steps during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Dec. 4. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic New Service

“When a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is reflected in them,” the pontiff told an estimated 45,000 pilgrims who gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

“As ‘one flesh’, they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity,” he said. “The image of God is the married couple — not just the man, not just the woman, but both.”

The emphasis on traditional marriage comes after Francis’ much-discussed comments on gays soon after his election a year ago.

Last year, he surprised many conservatives with his “Who am I to judge” comment about gays. Then, in an interview published in the Italian daily Corriere Della Sera in March, he said the church might explore the possibility of recognizing civil unions for gays and lesbians.

At his general audience, he reinforced the role of marriage and urged men and women to work harder to resolve their marital differences.

“We know the many trials and difficulties that the lives of a married couple encounter,” Francis told the crowd. “You don’t need to call the United Nations to your home to make peace: A small gesture is enough, a caress, and tomorrow is a new day.”

The pope’s attitude toward homosexuality earned him the “Person of the Year” accolade in The Advocate, a U.S. gay magazine last year.


About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • The trouble with news coverage on Pope Francis is that anything he says that shows compassion for gays or treats homosexual activity as just another sin- like heterosexual adultery- it gets twisted around in the media to make it look like he is some sort of secret gay activist. Consequently, when the pope talks about real marriage as being between a man and a woman—some people go into a tizzy or are baffled. Forgotten seems to be the fact that the very traditional Mother Teresa was the first to set up a facility in New York City to care for those with AIDS–most of whom were gays.

  • Now that Francis is finally, FINALLY, giving a personal affirmation of marriage between a man and a woman (after telling the U.S. Conference of Bishops to shut up on the topic!), that raises a question.

    If the Pope is truly saying that marriage is to be between a man and a woman, exactly why did the Pope say that “the church might explore the possibility of recognizing civil unions for gays and lesbians”?

  • “The image of God is a married couple, man and woman– not only man, not only woman, but rather both. This is the image of God: love, God’s alliance with us is represented in the alliance between man and woman.” This is from a full reporting of the story by CWN.

    His statement regarding civil unions only meant that the Church would tolerate such legal status, but in now way implies any recognition of such unions as “marriage” and no indication that such unions could even be blessed by the Church.

    In any event, he is quite clear here is saying that marriage is ONLY between a man and woman.

  • The pope simply suggested that the Church would not resist civl union legislation, but that does not mean that it would offer any recognition of such unions. And it most likely would not offer any type of blessing to such unions either.

    Its quite clear where Pope Francis stands on marrage. From a full report of the story from CWN the Pope is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman when he stated:

    “The image of God is a married couple, man and woman– not only man, not only woman, but rather both. This is the image of God: love, God’s alliance with us is represented in the alliance between man and woman.”

    He shows us that the complimenarity of the sexes in marriage demonstrates a language of diversity and inclusion. Marriage cannot segregate men or women in its bond. Marriage must be inclusive and have both a man and a woman.

  • Is anyone actually surprised by this? Aside from the overeager Advocate magazine, anyone actually concerned with the issue was skeptical as to Pope Francis’s views on the subject. Which by and large were meant to deflect discussions rather than engage in them.

    The Pope is already pretty late to this party. Dan Savage said it best:

    “But now that gays are 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 —-ing ship has —-ing 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?”

  • Of course. It doesnt fit in with the propaganda rhetoric honed over the years to win the hearts and minds of the American population to become accepting of homosexual marriage and lifestyle. In the rhetoric of the gay rights activism, opposition to gay marriage is ontologically hateful bigotry. So, If you are a tradtional Christian , especially a traditional Catholic , you are a hateful bigot. However It is kind of hard for anyone, except Richard Dawkins , to want to portray Mother Theresa as a hateful bigot. So, the fact that she was out front in caring for homosexual and straight AIDs patents will naturally be discarded as any good Orwellian like political machine will do.

  • Its nice to know you are ignorant of your anti-“New Atheist” screeds as you are on other subjects. It was Christopher Hitchens who was the major critic of Mother Theresa not Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is the guy who makes fun of fundamentalist ideas of science and scholarship. Hitchens makes fun of fundamentalist politics.

    At least if you are going to defame someone, defame the right person!

    Mother Theresa is a woman whose image far exceeded her actual works and deeds.

    “Teresa’s free clinics provided care that was at best rudimentary and haphazard and at worst unsanitary and dangerous, despite the enormous amounts of donations she received. Multiple volunteers at Teresa’s clinics, such as Mary Loudon and Susan Shields, have testified to the inadequate care provided to the dying. Despite routinely receiving millions of dollars in donations, Teresa deliberately kept her clinics barren and austere, lacking all but the most rudimentary and haphazard care.”

    Teresa’s organization routinely received multimillion-dollar donations which were squirreled away in bank accounts, while volunteers were told to beg donors for more money and plead extreme poverty and desperate need. The money she received could easily have built half a dozen fully equipped modern hospitals and clinics, but was never used for that purpose. No, this negligent and rudimentary care was deliberate ”

    As for her work with AIDS victims, when the International Health Organization honored Teresa in 1989,she called AIDS a “just retribution for improper sexual conduct”. So much for charity and compassion.

  • Anti-gays are quite desperate to twist Pope Francis’s comments into anti-gay Hate Speech.

  • Isn’t it time anti-gays stopped insisting only they can define legal marriage? There are already over 750,000 legally married American same gender couples, and we simply don’t care what a few anti-gays think.

  • Shorter Pope Francis:
    “God made Richard ‘The Night Stalker’ Ramirez and Doreen Lioy, not Adam and Steve!”

    Great. So can we please put to rest this crap about this Pope supposedly being progressive on gay issues? He isn’t. Why would he be? He’s the Pope.

    Even in this article, we get yet another iteration of the ridiculous claim that the Pope said he is in no position to judge gays. He was ONLY referring to CELIBATE homosexual men in the priesthood, i.e. “ex gays.” His comments did not apply to non-self-loathing gay people.

    He also told Argentineans that he is here to wage a “war of God” against gay marriage, which really should put to rest this new crap we’re hearing about how he supposedly said the Catholic Church might maybe possibly theoretically kinda sorta endorse same-sex unions. It will never happen. Who could actually believe it would?

    The new Pope is media-savvy and knows what kind of spin to put on his proclamations, but he is still selling the same old message. That is, after all, his job.

  • Actually, I think New York City already had facilities to care for AIDS patients.

    They were called “hospitals.”

    Mother Teresa was neither a doctor nor a nurse. Neither were her nuns. Their goal was to convert dying people to Catholicism, not to offer actual medical care.

  • The Pope was showing recogniztion of the “legal” rights that our secular society has attached to marriage. The only way for him to respect those legal rights without undermining the doctrines of the church is to accept the creation of a separate and unequal category, civil unions. BUT the time for that has come and gone here in the US. There was a time when activists would have accepted Civil Unions, and frankly I think there should ONLY be civil union licenses granted, but the opposition was so intense to that proposal that people decided it would be full marriage. Many countries have Civil Union laws and they work quite well. IF marriage is a religious sacrament as Catholics claim, then the state has no business granting marriage licenses. Civil Unions however can be devised that give all the legal benefits (survivors rights, inheritance rights, power of attorney rights, joint filing of taxes, access to health insurance on a partners policy, etc.)

  • The Catholic Church would not have a Pope who is truly “progressive on gay issues”. Why would they? It would be counteractive to themselves as a whole.

    While I do appreciate his words proclaiming he is not in any position to judge LGBT people who are trying to become closer to God*, he is not in anyway a hero to our community. He not in the business of raising awareness or pursuing a better and equal world for gays and lesbians. He is in the business of heading the Catholic faith. In terms of Christianity, marriage will always be between a man and woman. That is what their religious text dictates. So it will be his job to follow up on that. And at least in this country, that is their right.

    However, the Bible’s version of marriage has almost nothing to do with the contemporary version of marriage. There are tons of people getting married everyday who are atheist, agnostic, and everything else. They need to realize that marriage is no longer a religious union. It is a commitment made by two people who love each other, to join in legal ways and to enjoy benefits given to those who form families. So, marriage should be for two people who love each other, regardless of gender or religion. Christians who want a Christian marriage can have a Christian ceremony, just like many other religions have their version of the marriage ceremony in their own sacred places. Us LGBT’s can have our weddings in a beautiful location of our own choosing that is not affiliated with their church/religion.

    *Why must there be a condemnation for an LGBT person who lives a Christian life? While it may seem opposing to most, it is no different than an addict, adulterer, or anyone else attempting a relationship with God, because as the Bible itself says, we are all with sin(it’s impossible to be human and be clean from sin) and all sin is equal and equally forgiven. Don’t be how you claim the people you’re against are. That’s opposing. Let people be who they are and live the lives they want to live. It’s the silliest thing in my eyes, to commit the same negative acts yourself that are the acts you hate that are committed by your opponent.

  • The fact of the matter is that gay activists are the true haters on the gay “marriage” issue. The above comment proves it. If you disagree with activists as a matter of morals or policy they scream hater at you. They thus debase and degrade any civilized debate on the issue. Which of course is their strategy in spewing hatred at those who strongly disagree with them. And they can get away with perverting the debate because the mass media has become a cheering squad for the left on all social issues–not just gay “marriage”.

  • Mickey, the reply from Larry corrected your facts about which atheist was critical of Mother Teresa and why. I want to correct your perceptions of what we atheists think of Christians generally. We know that all of us have huge tendencies to belief of any sets of relationships in our experience that appear to have influence over or dictate our well-being. In that sense, we are all believers. However, it’s mainly Christian hypocrisy and intentional damage to human progress in education, health care, and human rights that offends us. If you don’t know what I mean, you need to read Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennett, and Coyne. Your diatribe against nonbelievers in your faith is ludicrous.

  • I don’t know if the media is spinning the Pope’s remarks, or if he is simply not inclined to be absolutely precise in his language, but his comments on the issue of marriage need to be a bit more succinct if he is going to provide guidance to Catholics. You cannot argue that he is currently clear and succinct, if he were there would be no cause for argument or speculation. At least as far as Catholics are concerned within the parameters of their traditions.

  • Really? Can you be more hackneyed and dishonest?

    Why should there be a civilized debate about discrimination, civil liberties, and bigotry? These are not subjects which lend themselves to polite discussion. Especially when people like yourself make attacks on others and cloak them in religiousity.

  • The Pope knows media spin and how to use it to his advantage. He is not inclined to be precise because being vague makes him look more modern than reality permits.

    The Papacy is as much a political position as it is religious authority. “Dancing a little side step” is a well honed political survival tool.

  • I do wish the Pope would stand up like Franklin Graham, and firmly oppose the gay activists and their marriage-mess.

    Francis needs to simply say “Gay Marriage Is Wrong, Period, Baby” and let people know he ain’t backin’ down anymore. No more appeasement!!

  • Because according to Franklin Graham, nothing says God’s love more than putting people into prison camps.

  • Love to know where you got the 750K number, citation link perhaps?

    A quick Google search turns up a possible total of gay couples with children (650K or so), but the only thing I found about total gay marriages is from from last July”

    “How Many Gay Couples Have Tied The Knot? Nobody Knows”
    “The New York Times recently and came up with “at least” 82,500 couples, noting: “The quality of record-keeping varies: some states rely on estimates, while others keep more detailed records.”

  • So you had to go that far back to find a citation that suggests such a low number? Get real. Over 18,000 California same gender couples got married in less than 4 months; over 1,300 in about 4 days in Utah, and over 300 in Michigan in a less than 48 hour period that began after 5 PM on a Friday.

  • You are very correct my brother deacon, that is the way anti Christian secular humanistic relativist behave. If you disagree with this agenda, especially the Gay Agenda, you are called all kinds of names,including being intolerant. Odd, that they manifest intolerance and hatred by their very actions.