Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions

Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

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ROME, Italy (AP) — Pope Francis became the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions in comments for a documentary that premiered Wednesday, sparking cheers from gay Catholics and demands for clarification from conservatives, given the Vatican's official teaching on the issue.

The papal thumbs-up came midway through the feature-length documentary "Francesco", which premiered at the Rome Film Festival. The film, which features fresh interviews with the pope, delves into issues Francis cares about most, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.

"Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God," Francis said. "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."

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favour of civil unions as pope, and no pontiff before him had, either.

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.

The Rev James Martin, a Jesuit who has sought to build bridges with gay Catholics, praised the comments as "a major step forward in the church's support for LGBT people".

"The pope's speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws," Martin said in a statement.

However, conservative Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, called for clarification. "The pope's statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions," he said in a statement. "The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships."

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 behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions".

Doing so, the Vatican reasoned, would not only condone "deviant behaviour" 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.

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.

"The world needs positivity right now, the world needs to care about climate change, care about refugees and migration, borders, walls, family separation," Afineevsky said, urging attention to the main issues covered by the film.

One main character in the documentary is Juan Carlos Cruz, the Chilean survivor of clergy sexual abuse whom Francis initially discredited during a 2018 visit to Chile.

Cruz, who is gay, said that during his first meetings with the pope in May 2018 after they patched things up, Francis assured him that God made Cruz gay. Cruz tells his own story throughout the film, chronicling both Francis' evolution on understanding sexual abuse as well as to document the pope's views on gay people.

Afineevsky had 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.

"Listen, when you are in the Vatican, the only way to achieve something is to break the rule and then to say, 'I'm sorry,'" Afineevsky said in an interview.

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 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.

But "Francesco" is more than a biopic about the pope. Wim Wenders did that in the 2018 film "Pope Francis: A Man of His Word."

"Francesco," is more a visual survey of the world's crises and tragedies, with audio from the pope providing possible solutions.

Afineevsky, who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2015 documentary "Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom," travelled the world to document the film: at Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh, where Myanmar's Rohingya sought refuge; the US-Mexico border; and Francis' native Argentina.


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