Read the decision here. It is a “Response to a Doubt” with an explanatory note. It is an excellent statement of Church teaching. The decision at this point in time may have been chosen as a way to help rebuke the German Bishops in their Synodal Way, which is looking for a way to bless same-sex unions.
Some news stories on this document have noted that Pope Francis favored civil laws legalizing civil unions for gay couples. However, what the Church is willing to permit in secular society is different from what She is willing to do Herself. We Catholics must admit that we are a minority in the world and in many nations, and that most Catholics do not accept Church teaching. So we cannot impose our faith on others.
In a pluralistic society, the Catholic Church should acknowledge that non-Catholics have the right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. This includes their right to err by sincere but mistaken conscience, and to live by what they believe to be truth and goodness. If a democratic society approves of same-sex civil unions or same-sex marriages, it is their right to live as they see fit.
Those who say there is “no right to error” do not accept the dogma of the Church on the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, nor do they accept Church teaching on human fraternity and the plurality of religions. People do have a right and duty to follow their own conscience. However, Catholics also have a duty to form their conscience according to Church teaching. There is a right to follow even a mistaken conscience, in sincerity, and it is only for God to judge who is sincere. And while there is no right to sin, the Church acknowledges that not all sins should be against the law.
In a holy society, in which most persons understood the moral law well, there would not be same-sex unions or marriages. However, that is not the case today. Even within the Catholic Church, the “faithful” have a poor understanding of Church teaching — and that includes members of the Church who have chosen to make themselves judges over Popes and Councils. So it is unfortunate that secular society is so far from what the Faith understands as a holy and just fraternity of human persons. But nevertheless, people have a right to freedom of religion and conscience, and this many include, in some places and times, a legal right to same-sex unions or marriages.
The Church cannot bless same-sex couples, unions, or marriages. However, She does admit that these couples have the right to lives according to their own conscience. And the Church should admit that non-Catholic same-sex couples have a legal right (or should have) to civil unions and marriages, according to their freedom of religion and conscience.
The problem arises when same-sex couples claim to be Catholic, but refuse to live by Catholic teaching. They cannot have it both ways. If you reject fundamental Catholic teachings, repent or depart from the Church. Those who are outside the Church have a duty to continually seek moral and religious truth and to live by conscience. But those within the Church must live by Church teaching.
The decision of the CDF is very helpful in clarifying the place that gay persons have in the Church. They cannot live as if they are not Catholic. The decision of the Pope to support same-sex civil unions (some years ago) is important because it will be a long time before the whole world becomes Catholic Christian. The Church must treat persons formally outside the Church with respect for their free will and consciences, given to them by God. For same-sex couples who are legally married may well be in the state of grace. And if the Holy Spirit deigns to live within their souls, the Church cannot reject them.
In the United States, Catholics are a minority, believing a practicing Catholics are a minority among Catholics. We cannot expect that our views should control the lives of the majority of persons who disagree with us. It would be wrong for conservative Catholics to impose their views on the whole nation. And even persons who represent a minority opinion have the right to live according to their free will and conscience.
I support the right of gay persons to live according to their understanding of religion and life, and to follow their consciences. Therefore, I also support their right to legalized same-sex marriage.
However, in nations where Catholics are a vast majority of the population, I still rebuke those Catholics for rejecting Church teaching in their lives and in the formation of their own consciences. Non-Catholics must not be forced to live by Catholic teaching. But Catholics are morally required to live by the teaching of their own Church.
Non-Catholic teachers at a Catholic school, must not be prohibited from same-sex marriage, which is a legal right. And no employment contract has the right to deprive them of such a fundamental choice in their personal lives. Catholic schools do not have the right to force non-Catholic teachers to live by the Catholic religion. That is gravely immoral and contrary to Catholic dogma on freedom of religion.
Ronald L Conte Jr