Back in 2010, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio held a meeting with the bishops of Argentina to advocate an unorthodox solution to the same-sex marriage issue facing that nation- to support civil unions for lesbians and gays. While Cardinal Begoglio, now Pope Francis I, openly condemned the move to same-sex marriage and lead protests in the streets of Buenos Aires claiming that the move was a direct threat to Church teachings and the work of the Devil, he was far more pragmatic behind the scenes.
The bishops were hardly happy with that idea.
Pope Francis I has shown a lot of differences when compared to his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Unlike Benedict, Francis has shown a greater willingness to humble the privilege of the Church. In Argentina, pedophiles and child predators are handed over to the civil authorities without hesitation, and Francis has shown a reluctance to become too involved in civil politics.
Director of the Catholic John XXIII Foundation for Religious Science Alberto Melloni stated “The melody may be the same, but the sound is completely different.”
The biographer of Pope Francis, Sergio Rubin, said Faced with the near certain passage of the gay marriage bill, Cardinal Bergoglio offered the civil union compromise as the “lesser of two evils. He wagered on a position of greater dialogue with society.”
The bishops overruled the then Cardinal.
According to Marcelo Marquez, an LGBT rights leader and theologian, after Marquez wrote a letter to then-Cardinal Bergoglio, he received a phone call less than an hour after it was received, and “He listened to my views with a great deal of respect. He told me that homosexuals need to have recognized rights and that he supported civil unions, but not same-sex marriage.”
The two would later meet, discuss Marquez’ intention to marry his partner, and discuss theology.
Faced with being the public image of his Church, Francis, at the time, was very combative about marriage equality. Esteban Paulon, the president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transexuals, stated “The reality, beyond what he may have said in private meetings, was that he said some terrible things in public. He took a role, in public, that was determinedly combative.”
One observer of the 2010 meeting, Roxana Alfieri, noted that “Bergoglio’s thinking was very clearly demonstrated both with what he said and in the message of his pastoral work. He didn’t want the church to take a position of condemning people but rather of respect for their rights like any vulnerable person.” Alfieri is a social worker in the communications department at the bishops’ central office.
The Catholic Church at the time was hardly unified on the subject. Pope Francis’ position at the time was supported by many liberal bishops, and at least one priest, Father Nicolas Alessio, spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage and was suspended from his work by Archbishop Carlos Ñáñez.