The pope's assertion this week that the Catholic Church should examine civil unions is already causing some uncomfortable conversation in the United States.
Timothy Dolan, the outspoken archbishop of New York and ardent opponent to marriage equality, was asked three times today during his interview on Meet The Press about civil unions.
"He even opened the door in an interview this week to the idea of accepting civil unions," moderator David Gregory said after listing a number of ways in which Pope Francis is challenging social conservatives. "Is that something you can see the church supporting?"
Dolan then launched into a long non-answer. So Gregory asked again, with Dolan conceding the church is being called to study the idea but that it makes him uncomfortable. Here's a transcript of that exchange:
GREGORY: Do you imagine the church might open the way to accepting civil unions?
DOLAN: He mentioned-- I haven't see-- I'm-- I'm as eager as you are to-- read the-- the full extent of that interview. And if I saw the reports accurately, they-- he didn't come right out and say he was for them. Once again, in an extraordinarily-- sincere, open, nuanced way, he said, "I know that some people in some states have chosen this. We need to think about that and look into it and see the reasons that have driven them."
It wasn't as if he came out and approved them. But he-- he just in-- in a sensitivity that has won the heart of the world, he said, "Rather than quickly condemn them, let's see if-- let's-- let's just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people--"
GREGORY: Would that make you uncomfortable?
DOLAN: The-- what, the civil unions?
DOLAN: I-- it would. It would, in a way, David. Because I don't think-- marriage, between-- one man and one woman forever leading to life and love, that's not something that's just a religious, sacramental concern. You bet it is that, and-- and we-- that's how god has elevated it, to making a sacrament.
But it's also the building block of society and culture. So it belongs to culture. And if-- and if we water down that sacred meaning of marriage in any way, I worry that not only the church would suffer, I worry that culture and society would.
In another portion of the same interview, Dolan was asked for his reaction to NFL hopeful Michael Sam coming out as gay. Dolan struck a tone more in accordance with Francis, saying, “Good for him. I would have no sense of judgment on him.”
“The same Bible that…teaches us well about the virtues of chastity and fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people,” Dolan added. “So I would say, bravo.”
Dolan isn't exactly known for this sort of rhetoric, having been named to The Advocate's annual Phobies list as recently as last year. But it seems a closer match with the tone set by Pope Francis, known for saying "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?"