Francis becomes first pope to endorse same-sex civil unions

Pope Francis became the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions, calling for legislation to protect same-sex couples. His comments sparked cheers from gay Catholics and demands for clarification from conservatives, given the Vatican’s official teaching on the issue.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They are children of God and have a right to a family," the pope said in an interview in the documentary Francesco, which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival. "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

The film, which features fresh interviews with the pope, delves into other issues Francis cares about most, as well. They include the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.

Francis noted he has stood up for civil unions before, but his remarks in the documentary go beyond what he has said previously and sharply diverge from the view of his predecessors.

As NPR reminds, before he became the pontiff, then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoglio opposed same-sex marriage legislation but supported some level of legal protection for same-sex couples. Shortly after becoming pope in 2013, he then made big headlines when asked about reports of gays in the clergy.

"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge," Francis answered.

And it was a shift in tone from traditional Catholic doctrine.

Catholic teaching holds that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” A 2003 document from the Vatican’s doctrine office stated the church’s respect for gay people “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

Doing so, the Vatican reasoned, would not only condone “deviant behavior,” but create an equivalence to marriage, which the church holds is an indissoluble union between man and woman. That document was signed by the then-prefect of the office, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI and Francis’ predecessor.

Later Wednesday, questions arose about when Francis first made the remarks. The scene of his interview is identical to one from 2019 with Mexican broadcaster Televisa, but his comments about the need for legal protections for civil unions apparently never aired until the documentary.

Advocacy groups representing LGBTQ people welcomed Francis' new remarks.

DignityUSA, an organization representing LGBTQ Catholics, said it is "cautiously optimistic" but that the group wants to see the remarks in context and hear the Vatican's response.

"If this statement is allowed to stand, this could be a global game changer for gay and lesbian people, for same sex couples, for LGBTQ people broadly. I think we're just going to have to see where it lands," Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA's executive director, told NPR.

But the pope's latest comments also drew some criticism.

The remarks are a form of "pastoral outreach," said Bill Donohue, president of the US-based Catholic League, a conservative group. "It's not going to change doctrine. He doesn't have the authority to do that anyhow."

Director Evgeny Afineevsky, who is gay, expressed surprise after the premiere that the pope’s comments had created such a firestorm, saying Francis wasn’t trying to change doctrine but was merely expressing his belief gay people should enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals. He insisted the pope made the comments to him directly, through a translator, but declined to say when.

Afineevsky is known for his remarkable access to cardinals, the Vatican television archives and the pope himself. He said he negotiated his way in through persistence, and deliveries of Argentine mate tea and Alfajores cookies that he got to the pope via well-connected Argentines in Rome.

The director worked official and unofficial channels starting in 2018, and ended up so close to Francis by the end of the project that he showed him the movie on his iPad in August. The two recently even exchanged Yom Kippur greetings; Afineevsky is a Russian-born, Israeli-raised Jew now based in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, Afineevsky’s 48th birthday, the director said Francis presented him with a birthday cake at the Vatican.

Similar articles

  • Guterres criticizes countries for neglecting WHO guidance on pandemic

    Guterres criticizes countries for neglecting WHO guidance on pandemic

    The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday criticized countries that rejected facts and ignored World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on the coronavirus pandemic, news wires reported. In a speech to kick off a UN General Assembly meeting of world leaders on Covid-19, Guterres said the UN health agency provided scientific guidance that should have been the basis for a coordinated global response.

    30
  • WHO: Vaccines are to change the game

    WHO: Vaccines are to change the game

    The promise of Covid-19 vaccines is “phenomenal” and “potentially game-changing”, WHO regional director for Europe Hans Kluge told a briefing on Thursday. Speaking from Copenhagen, he pointed out supplies were expected to be very limited in the early stages and countries must decide who gets priority.

    29