Archbishop Says Pope's Civil Unions Endorsement Could Lead to Partnerships Between Brothers and Sisters

Salvatore Cordileone, the archbishop of San Francisco, responded to Pope Francis' historic endorsement of same-sex civil unions by saying such unions should be "as inclusive as possible," and extended to unmarried brothers and sisters who support each other.

Pope Francis said homosexual people "have the right to be in a family," but stopped short of supporting same-sex marriage, which is legal in the U.S. The comments came in a documentary, Francesco, which premiered at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday.

"Homosexual people have the right to be in a family," the pontiff said, according to The Associated Press. "They are children of God. You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered."

San Francisco's archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, who has vocally opposed same-sex marriage for years, issued a statement in response, in which he maintained that civil unions are not akin to marriage.

Cordileone said civil unions which mutually benefit two people should not be limited to those in a same-sex relationship, and brothers and sisters in partnerships should be allowed the same rights.

Salvatore Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore Joseph Cordileone attends mass at the Vatican Basilica on June 29, 2013 in Vatican City, Vatican. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

In his statement, titled "The Role of Civil Unions," Cordileone said the topic of civil unions had "come up in conversation" with Pope Francis during his visit to the Vatican in January.

"The Holy Father clearly differentiated between a civil arrangement which accords mutual benefits to two people, and marriage. The former, he said, can in no way be equated to marriage, which remains unique," Cordileone said.

"I would add that a civil union of this type (one which is not equated to marriage) should be as inclusive as possible, and not be restricted to two people of the same sex in a presumed sexual relationship," he said.

"There is no reason, for example, why a brother and a sister, both of whom are unmarried and support each other, should not have access to these kinds of benefits."

Cordileone added that marriage "is unique because it is the only institution that connects children to their mothers and fathers, and therefore is presumed to be a sexual relationship.

"Indeed, the sexual relationship that marriage is presumed to involve is the only kind by which children are naturally made. The nature of marriage, the place of sex within a virtuous life, these great teachings of the Church come to us from God, are illuminated by reason, and do not change."

Cordileone has long campaigned against marriage equality. According to SF Gate, he helped raise $1.5 million get Proposition 8, which banned same-sex couples from marrying, on the California ballot in 2008, when he was bishop of San Diego.

After Californians voted to pass the state constitutional amendment, Cordileone told a Catholic radio show that "the ultimate attack of the Evil One is the attack on marriage." A federal court later struck down Proposition 8, ruling it was unconstitutional.

Cordileone made headlines at the weekend after he performed an exorcism ceremony at a Catholic Church, days after protesters toppled a statue of Father Junipero Serra there.