A documentary filmmaker sparked international headlines in late October when he claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples on film. The Vatican, however, says the pope’s comments must be looked at in context.
The documentary, “Francesco,” premiered on Oct. 21 at the Rome Film Festival. Its director, Evgeny Afineevsky, led journalists to believe that the pope’s comments endorsing civil unions came from an interview he had held with Francis. In fact, the footage was from an earlier Mexican documentary, and that portion of the interview never aired.
The Vatican said that Francis’ comments supporting civil unions were in response to a situation that arose when he was bishop of Buenos Aires. In 2010, Argentina considered legalizing same-sex marriage. Francis opposed that move; instead, he backed legal protections for same-sex couples in the form of civil unions.
The Catholic Church’s official stance has not changed. In 2003, Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, issued a document stating that the church does not support civil unions. The document made it clear that the church cannot endorse policies that “lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”
Francis has taken a more accepting line in certain cases. The documentary recounted the story of a gay Catholic man who asked the pope about whether he and his husband should take their children to church. The pope advised him to approach the parish priest and find a way to raise the children in the church.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” Francis said during the interview with the Mexican film crew. “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.”
Initial media reports on the matter made it sound as if Francis might alter church policy on civil unions. This led several conservative Catholic officials to protest.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Providence, R.I., diocese issued a statement asserting, “The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and must have their personal human rights and civil rights recognized and protected by law. However, the legalization of their civil unions, which seek to simulate holy matrimony, is not admissible.”