ROME, February 7, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Since Monday, the Catholic and pro-family internet has been abuzz with conflicting articles and blog posts about comments by a Vatican prelate who was reported to have supported legal structures recognizing same-sex partnerings. A story published by the U.S. bishops’ news service reported Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, as saying, “While the Catholic Church opposes legal sanctions against homosexuality and favors legal protections for unmarried people living together, it must defend traditional marriage for the good of society.”

The story touched off a small firestorm in the secular media, with some claiming that the archbishop had contradicted previous statements from Pope Benedict XVI and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

But in a follow-up interview with Vatican Radio yesterday, Archbishop Paglia insisted that his remarks, which had been given off-the-cuff after a prepared statement, were taken out of context and that he had never intended to imply that the Church supports homosexual civil unions.

In her coverage on Monday, Cindy Wooden, a Rome correspondent for Catholic News Service, quoted Archbishop Paglia saying, “If a country outlawed homosexuality, I would work to overturn it.” Wooden noted that he believed “there are still ‘20 or 25 countries’ that define homosexuality as a crime."

Wooden reported Paglia calling for “greater efforts to ensure legal protection and inheritance rights for people who are living together, but not married,” and that “legal means must be found to guarantee rights and regulate inheritance.”

“But do not call it marriage,” the CNS article quoted the archbishop saying.

The report was followed within hours by stories from secular liberal news outlets, carrying headlines like this one from the Huffington Post: “Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia Says Vatican Should Do More To Support Gay Couples.” The Global Post said, “Vatican official opens to rights for gay unions”. 

The reports even prompted a positive response from homosexualists in Italy. Franco Grillini, the head of Gaynet, an Italian homosexualist organization, said, “For the first time a senior prelate recognises that there should be rights also for gay couples and that there are many countries in the world where being gay is a crime.”

The ambiguity of the comments was highlighted, however, by the response from Aurelio Mancuso, head of Equality Italia, who said they could as easily be interpreted to mean “keeping the status quo, in other words an absence of rights.”

But in his interview Wednesday with Vatican Radio, Paglia said he was “very surprised at how some media reported” his statements, saying his intention had been “derailed.” “And it is certain that, when the train is derailed, it does not reach the station, it risks running off a cliff,” he added.

Paglia said it is worth considering whether existing laws, which in Italy do not include “civil partnerships,” are enough to grant all citizens sufficient protection from “unjust discrimination”. It is a matter, he said, of “individual rights,” as opposed to collective “gay rights.”

“This is far from the approval of certain perspectives,” he said.

Paglia added that he had been deeply moved by the pope’s discourses on both the value of marriage and the need to defend all persons, including homosexuals, from “malevolent and violent actions.” 

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“I really hope that precious treasure, the heritage of humanity, which is the family, can be defended, supported and helped,” he said, “and woe to those who distort its meaning.”

Fr. Shenan Boquet, the president of Human Life International, issued a media release today thanking the archbishop for his clarification, saying it has relieved the widespread confusion created by the media reports. 

Whatever the media may have implied, Fr. Boquet said, the archbishop has “simply affirmed the Church's long held defense of basic human dignity (which is a gift from God the Father as every person is made in His image), her defense of the unchangeable nature of marriage, and her desire that no one suffer unjust discrimination.” 

Fr. Boquet cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith showing that the Church has no established position on questions of inheritance law and has never opposed the claims of individuals to pass on their property to whomever they choose, or to allow visitors of their choice when in the hospital.

But this does not mean that the Church has or could ever condone legal changes creating “civil unions” between persons of the same sex. Rather it has said clearly that Catholics must oppose efforts to establish legal recognitions of any type of non-marital sexual relationships. To do so, Boquet said, would only create “confusion” over the true nature of marriage, “which is rightfully elevated and defended in almost every nation”. 

“It makes perfect sense to protect marriage in law, just as it makes little sense to provide legal recognition to dissolvable, affection-based relationships between individuals,” he said. 

With regard to “laws against homosexuality,” Boquet added, “in certain nations, we are not aware of any law against sexual orientation per se. Some nations have retained laws against homosexual acts and the Church has never opposed these laws nor sought their reversal.”

However, the Church does not concern itself with the morality of “orientation.”

“Being attracted to a those of the same sex is not in itself sinful,” Fr. Boquet said, “but is rather a disordered desire, that is to be responded to with the virtue of chastity. 

“But she respects the right of any nation to elevate natural marriage as the most basic institution of any healthy society, which is thus worthy of legal recognition and protection.”