Edited: 12/01/2011 at 6:10 pm.

December 1, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - According to The Tablet, the Archbishop of Westminster, England, has publicly expressed support for homosexual civil unions, a move that appears to put him at odds with a clear Vatican decree against supporting such unions confirmed by Pope John Paul II and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) in 2003.

The Tablet reports that, while acknowledging that marriage and civil partnerships are not equal, Archbishop Vincent Nichols stated in a press conference late last month: “we would want to emphasise that civil partnerships actually provide a structure in which people of the same sex who want a lifelong relationship [and] a lifelong partnership can find their place and protection and legal provision.”

“As a Church we are very committed to the notion of equality so that people are treated the same across all the activities of life,” Nichols is reported to have said. “The Church holds great store by the value of commitment in relationships and undertakings that people give. Stability in society depends upon the reliability of commitments that people give. That might be in offering to do a job but especially in their relationships with one another. Equality and commitment are both very important and we fully support them.”

According to The Telegraph, Nichols said that he is “very disappointed” with the government’s plans to move in the direction of legalizing homosexual “marriage.”

He added, however: “I respect the Prime Minister’s insistence and emphasis on the importance of equality in relationships and the vital importance of commitment. Those are things that we recognise as very important to the health of society.

“But commitment plus equality does not equal marriage,” he continued, “and the distinctive nature of marriage is something that is very important to the well-being of society because it is the foundation of family life as we know it and as it experienced by the vast majority of people.”

The statement is sending shockwaves through Britain’s Catholic Church, which has been reeling in recent years from open collaboration between the hierarchy and the homosexual movement.

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Writing for the Catholic Herald, commentator William Oddie noted that the statement not only contradicts papal teaching on the subject, but also seems to open the door to Catholic endorsement of homosexual adoptions.

“Archbishop Nichols says he is in favour of gay civil unions: but that legally includes the right to adopt. So why did we lose our adoption agencies?” asks Oddie.

Noting that the bishops of England opposed homosexual civil unions in 2003, Oddie adds, “now we are told, by the chairman of the bishops’ conference, that the English Church supports civil unions between homosexual persons, unions which have been given the legal right to adopt children.”

“What are we to think? That the archbishop (to employ a Bush-ism) ‘mis-spoke’ himself, that actually he didn’t mean the kind of civil union we actually have but another kind, which would envisage all the rights such unions now enjoy except for the right to adopt children?

English priest Fr. Ray Blake, who blogs on Church issues, remarked, “it appears that the 2003 CDF document Legal Recognition of Homosexual Unions only applies to marriage itself, not ‘civil partnerships.’ I had obviously misunderstood as the bishops once did.”

The Vatican document, signed by Pope John Paul II and then-Cardinal Josef Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), states: “The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

“The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society,” the document continues. “Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself.”

Nichols’ statement follows a comment he made on the topic in September of 2010 when he claimed in an interview with the BBC that the bishops “did not oppose gay civil partnerships” in 2003.

“We recognized that in English law there might be a case for those,” said Nichols. “What we persistently said is that these are not the same as marriage.”

However, a declaration on the subject published by the bishops’ conference of England and Wales in 2003 had stated, “the government’s proposals to create civil partnerships for same-sex couples would not promote the common good.”