Catholic Action League of Massachusetts Hits Cardinal Sean O’Malley For Defending Pope’s Civil Union Stance

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Pope Francis came out in favor of same-sex civil unions, Cardinal Sean O’Malley came to his defense, and the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts went on the offensive against both of them this week.

O’Malley’s statement Thursday supporting the pope amounts to “a defense of the indefensible, compounded by an acute case of institutional and personal amnesia,” said C.J. Doyle of the Catholic Action League in a written statement.

A spokesman for Cardinal O’Malley could not be reached for comment Friday.

Pope Francis surprised many Catholics when a clip from a new documentary film called Francesco went public Wednesday.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that,” the pope says in the film, according to Catholic News Agency.

Some Catholic leaders questioned his remarks. Some have expressed support. Some have sought clarification.

A side story spun off over when the pope actually said made the remarks on civil unions. The Associated Press is reporting that Pope Francis made the comments in May 2019 in a video recorded interview for a Mexican television reporter but that the sound bite never aired until the documentary film that uses them was first publicly screened Wednesday.

Another side story closer to home is whether the archbishop of Boston’s response to the pope’s comments is consistent with his actions while leading two dioceses in Massachusetts during most of the past 28 years.

Here is O’Malley’s full statement, which drew ire from the Catholic Action League:

Quite understandably, the Holy Father’s recent statements concerning civil unions have captured the attention of the world press, because many people are anxious for the Church to change its position on marriage and family. Pope Francis strongly and consistently teaches that marriage is between a man and woman for a lifetime and that this is God’s plan for having and raising children.

The Pope’s endorsement of civil unions is not an endorsement of homosexual activity. Just as the Church does not campaign against civil laws that allow for common-law marriage or second marriages that are not sacramental, even though such arrangements can be in violation of the laws of the Church, the Holy Father recognizes that in civil society there can be cogent reasons to enact such laws providing for civil unions which are not the same as the institution of marriage.

Pope Francis has seen civil unions as a way for governments to provide protections and health care for couples in long-term, committed relationships, whether they be siblings or friends or partners. Such arrangements are not always of a sexual nature.

The Holy Father is very aware of the suffering and alienation of homosexual individuals, gay people, who are rejected by family and society. He is also keenly aware of the parents and loved ones who also suffer because a member of their family is bullied or marginalized for being different. The demands of sexual morality are very challenging for anyone seeking to lead a life of faithful discipleship. We do not serve people well by falsely claiming that we can change the Decalogue. Our task is to show people that we love them and care about them and that together we can strive to be better people, more generous, more courageous and more faithful to what God is calling us to do.


In response to O’Malley’s statement, the Catholic Action League put out a press release in the early hours of Friday providing a narrative of the archdiocese’s campaign against civil unions before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court defined a right to same-sex marriage in 2004.

Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, said that the Archdiocese of Boston, its newspaper The Pilot, and the Massachusetts Catholic Conference worked against civil unions in the state for about 12 1/2 years — from April 1991 to November 2003.

O’Malley, 76, was a key figure in the Catholic Church in Massachusetts during most of that time. He served as bishop of Fall River (which includes the South Coast, Cape Cod, and Islands) from August 1992 to October 2002, and he became archbishop of Boston in July 2003.

Doyle noted that in October 1992, the Catholic bishops of Massachusetts condemned then-Republican Governor Bill Weld’s decision to give domestic partner benefits to state employees. He also said that in 2003, the four diocesan bishops of Massachusetts — led by Cardinal O’Malley — condemned civil unions and domestic partner benefits.

At the time, O’Malley signed onto a statement that said:  “Domestic partnership bills would recognize homosexual relationships for the purpose of extending various socioeconomic benefits. The Church opposes this recognition.”

Doyle wrote in the press release, “Was the Cardinal wrong then or is he wrong now?”

Doyle said that in 1999, the Catholic Action League filed a successful lawsuit against the city of Boston Connors v. City of Boston which struck down an executive order from then-Mayor Tom Menino enacting domestic partner benefits in the city of Boston.

The press release closed by saying, “Sean O’Malley’s reversal on civil unions reminds us that for the modern Catholic hierarchy, in any conflict between Catholic morality and institutional loyalty, the company wins every time.”