As states legitimize new cohabitation possibilities, churches have to make a decision between standing their ground and putting more distance between them and the society, or making compromises. Currently the Roman Catholic Church is showing up all churches in Estonia, says University of Tartu political scientist Alar Kilp.
Heads of the Catholic Church are set to rule on a number of questions of principle, and the word on the street is that changes are in the air, including more acceptance for same-sex couples, single parents and divorce.
Kilp said in an opinion piece published on ERR on Thursday, that the new Pope is a "hardliner on global economic injustices," not on sexual orientation, family and other similar topics, as was Benedict XVI.
Kilp said the reality of the situation is that some parts of the world are becoming more liberal on the question of same-sex couples while the other half is more stuck in tradition, and the number of nations toughening up legislation against homosexuality is actually growing.
The trend towards more lenience is another question. “The Pope is from the half of the world where the attitude of church members and the society had gone through great changes. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have all legalized same-sex marriages.”
“Essentially there is no Catholic society outside the post-communist area in Europe, where there is a negative attitude towards same-sex cohabitation and marriage,” Kilp said, adding that in Western Europe, only Italy is yet to legalize same-sex marriage and it is moving in the direction.
Kilp said there is no pressure from human rights courts in South America, and the changes have come from the grass-roots level.
“He [Pope Francis] feels that from some areas – Germany for example, the United States and in other parts of the Americas – there is expectation that the church becomes more open on the subject. At the same time there are African and Asian Catholics who are very sensitive towards opening up.” Kilp said.
The Roman Catholic Church wants to open up a discussion on the subject. “This is a huge break: the mood in the church leadership has changed, bishops are able to express their opinions, and talk about how Catholics, church members, their societies are no longer what the church norms of old preached – and changes are needed.”
Kilp said he asked Catholic representatives and representatives of Estonian churches at the end of the 1990s questions about homosexuality, and already then the Catholic Church provided more refined answers, saying sexual orientation of priests was not important as all sexual activity was banned anyway, while Estonian churches all said a stern “no” to homosexual priests.
As same-sex cohabitation laws approach Estonia, churches here face the dilemma of compromise or radically opposition to state law, he said.
“I am surprised the Catholic Church has had the guts to open such debates and at least in part listening to the people. I would be very surprised if any church in Estonia would dare do the same,” Kilp said, who studied theology before crossing over to political science.