During his years of leadership in Buenos Aires, Argentinean Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) boldly defended marriage, the natural family, and the right of children to have a father and a mother. His courage and leadership were on display most vividly in the summer of 2010, when the Argentina legislature debated, and ultimately passed, a law that redefined marriage to include two persons of the same sex.
Knowing that a marriage redefinition bill was on the horizon, in April 2010 the Argentinean Episcopal Conference, of which Cardinal Bergoglio was president (2005-2011), published a statement on marriage: “On the Unalterable Good of Marriage and the Family.” In the statement, the bishops wrote that “the union of people of the same sex lacks the biological and anthropological elements that are proper to marriage and family.”
The bishops also responded to the oft-leveled charge of discrimination, pointing out that “the recognition of a real difference is not discrimination.” Continuing, they wrote, “Nature doesn’t discriminate when it makes us a man or a woman. Our Civil Code does not discriminate when it demands the requirement of being a man and a woman to contract marriage; it only recognizes a natural reality.”
Importance of Prayer
As the debate and vote on the marriage redefinition bill drew closer, Cardinal Bergoglio wrote a letter to Carmelite nuns in Argentina, enlisting their prayers and sacrifices, which he called “the two invincible weapons of Santa Teresa,” a reference to the founder of the Carmelite order, St. Teresa of Avila.
In his letter, Cardinal Bergoglio wrote, “In the coming weeks, the Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family.” He then detailed what was at stake with the bill’s potential passage:
At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.
The Cardinal also highlighted the fact that advocating for the authentic meaning of marriage is not just about politics, but is a struggle between truth and deception, a real spiritual warfare: “Let us not be naive: this is not simply a political struggle, but it is an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill (a mere instrument) but a ‘move’ of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
Concluding, Cardinal Bergoglio implored the intercession of the Holy Family: “We look to Saint Joseph, Mary and the Child Jesus and ask that they fervently defend the family in Argentina at this particular time.”
Education and Mobilization of the People
Cardinal Bergoglio did not discount the importance of ongoing education of the Catholic faithful, or the need for a vocal, visible opposition to the marriage redefinition bill. On the Sunday before the legislature’s consideration of the marriage redefinition bill, the Argentine Bishops’ statement on marriage was read at masses in Buenos Aires.
The Cardinal also exhorted the Catholics of Argentina to participate in a march and demonstration in Buenos Aires. He specifically appealed to parish priests, rectors, and chaplains to encourage participation in the march. All Catholic participants were advised by Cardinal Bergoglio to maintain a positive message, carrying only Argentinean flags or positive slogans for man-woman marriage. The slogan for the march was “We Want a Mom and Dad for our Children.”
Opposition to the marriage redefinition bill was strong. Catholic News Agency reported that 200,000 Argentineans gathered to protest the bill. Earlier in the month, around 635,000 people had signed petitions opposing the bill; their signatures were presented to the Argentinean Senate.
Cardinal Bergoglio collaborated with other Christians in Argentina to protest the marriage redefinition bill. Specifically, the pro-marriage march included leadership from not only the Catholic Church but also evangelical and pentecostal groups (see footnote 41 on page 9). Cardinal Bergoglio joined leaders from these Christian communities in writing a letter that was read during the demonstration.
Together, the authors wrote, “Marriage is an essential institution for our society and constitutes the basic structure upon which it is built. It is the fundamental responsibility of our political representatives to protect it and promote it, to legally preserve it as it is, the union between one man and one woman ordered toward mutual help, procreation, the fulfillment and happiness of spouses, the satisfaction of life in its fullness and the raising of children.”
Engaging a Hostile Culture
Unfortunately, Argentina passed the marriage redefinition bill by a vote of 33 to 27 in the Senate. The vote made Argentina the first country in Latin America to redefine marriage to include two persons of the same sex.
Since the passage of marriage redefinition legislature in 2010, Argentina has supported other measures that run contrary to an authentic understanding of the human person, marriage, and the family. In 2011, the Argentinean government distributed millions of copies of a “sexual education” guide produced by the United Nations, which taught readers about different types of families, including those with a father and a mother, those with only a father or a mother, and those with two fathers and mothers. “None of these families are better or worse than the others,” says the guide.
And in 2012, the Argentine legislature passed a bill that permits individuals to legally change their gender at will, regardless of their physiological sex, without enlisting surgery or hormonal treatment, and without the approval of a judge. The bill also included provisions for taxpayer-covered sex reassignment surgeries at public hospitals. According to the bill, gender is defined under the law as “the experience of gender as each person feels it, whether or not it corresponds with the sex assigned at birth.”
Engaging an Anti-Catholic Culture
Argentina has known its share of anti-Catholic persecution too. In a November 2012 New York Times article describing gay pride parades in Argentina, the author writes of the most recent march, “There were brief clashes with some Catholic activists who were protecting the cathedral from vandals; in previous years, the building had been spray-painted with anti-clerical slogans.” He adds, “The event was exhilarating.” [Link withheld because the article includes an inappropriate picture.]
In fact, on March 12, 2013, the day before Cardinal Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, the cathedral in Buenos Aires was occupied for four hours by drum-beating protestors who opposed city subsidies for Catholic schools. A mass in honor of the Conclave had to be cancelled.
Pope Francis, then, is no stranger to engaging with a hostile culture and seeking to evangelize in the midst of worldly powers strongly opposed to key tenets of Catholic teaching. Given his demonstrated zeal for the beautiful teachings of the Church on marriage and the family, it will be exciting to see how Pope Francis continues to evangelize on the meaning of human love, sexuality, and marriage. Our prayers are with you, Holy Father!