Pope Francis has endorsed same-sex civil unions, saying in a documentary that homosexual people are ‘children of God’ and that they ‘have the right to be in a family’.
His approval came midway through a feature-length film, titled Francesco, which had its premiere at the Rome Film Festival earlier today.
The film 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. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it,’ the 83-year-old said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film.
‘What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.’
He added that he ‘stood up for that’ in an apparent reference to his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires when he opposed legislation to approve same sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.
The Pope’s remarks will come as a shock to millions of Roman Catholics who have long followed the doctrine that gay relationships are sinful and accepted the Church’s stand against the worldwide advance of gay rights.
Pope Francis (pictured earlier today) has endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time since taking the papal role
How previous popes have approached same-sex civil unions
John Paul II
John Paul II (October 1978 to April 2005)
Pope John Paul II condemned same-sex marriage during his tenure and branded it as an attack on the fabric of society before calling on Catholics to combat what he said was an aggressive attempt to legally undermine the family.
‘Attacks on marriage and the family, from an ideological and legal aspect, are becoming stronger and more radical every day,’ he said in a statement in 2004.
‘Who destroys this fundamental fabric causes a profound injury to society and provokes often irreparable damage.’
Benedict XVI (April 2005 to February 2013)
‘A century ago, anyone would have thought it absurd to talk about homosexual marriage,’ Benedict previously said in an interview with German journalist Peter Seewald.
Benedict continued that equal marriage rights, alongside abortion and reproductive technologies were of the Antichrist.
He said: ‘Modern society is in the middle of formulating an anti-Christian creed, and if one opposes it, one is being punished by society with excommunication.
‘The fear of this spiritual power of the Antichrist is then only more than natural, and it really needs the help of prayers on the part of an entire diocese and of the Universal Church in order to resist it.’
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual tendencies are not sinful but that homosexual acts are.
It also instructs that homosexuals should be treated with dignity.
Francis’s predecessors, including Benedict XVI and John Paul II, condemned same-sex marriage during their papal tenure.
Francis himself had opposed legislation to approve same-sex marriages in Argentina when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires a decade ago – but had supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples at the time.
However, shortly after becoming Pope, he said of gay people that ‘we must be brothers’.
He added: ‘If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge him?’
Papal biographer Austen Ivereigh told Reuters that the pope’s comments made in the film were some of the clearest language the pontiff has used on the subject since his election in 2013.
The pope, who early in his papacy made the now-famous ‘Who am I to judge?’ remark about homosexuals trying to live a Christian life, spoke in a section of the film about Andrea Rubera, a gay man who with his partner adopted three children.
Rubera says in the film that he went to a morning Mass the pope held in his Vatican residence and gave him a letter explaining his situation.
He told the pope that he and his partner wanted to bring the children up as Catholics in the local parish but did not want to cause any trauma for the children.
It was not clear in which country Rubera lives.
Rubera said the pope telephoned him several days later, telling him he thought the letter was ‘beautiful’ and urging the couple to introduce their children to the parish but to be ready for opposition.
‘His message and his advice was really useful because we did exactly what he told us.
‘It’s the third year that they [the children] are on a spiritual path in the parish,’ Rubera says in the film.
‘He didn’t mention what was his opinion about my family so (I think) he is following the doctrine on this point but the attitude towards people has massively changed,’ he said.
Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky was given remarkable access to cardinals, the Vatican television archives and the pope himself to create the documentary.
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 some well-connected Argentines in Rome.
The premiere comes after the Pope praised a breastfeeding mother as he reverted to going without a coronavirus face mask during the Vatican general audience earlier today.
Francis mentioned Switzerland’s Valentina Frey at the start of the audience in the Paul VI hall while she breastfed her daughter Charlotte Katharina.
He said the act was an example of ‘tenderness’ and ‘beauty’ before continuing his speech.
The Pope said: ‘Something caught my attention while the readers were reciting the Biblical passages there was the baby over there that was crying.
‘And I was looking at the mother. Who was nursing the baby and comforting her.
‘I was thinking about how God is like this with us. How he often tries to comfort us and nurse us.’
It comes after Pope Francis praised Switzerland’s Valentina Frey at the start of his Vatican general audience in the the Paul VI hall while she breastfed her daughter Charlotte Katharina
He continued: ‘It is a beautiful image when we see this happening in church and we hear a baby crying and we see a mother’s tenderness.
‘We thank her for her witness. The tenderness of a mother is a symbol of God’s tenderness with us.
‘Never silence a baby in church because that is the voice that draws God’s tenderness. Thank you for you witness.’
The Pope did not wear a face mask for the duration of the audience again or when he greeted a half-dozen mask-less bishops at the end.
He shook hands and leaned in to chat privately with each one.
The Pope reverted to going without a coronavirus face mask while addressing the audience in Vatican City earlier today
Clergymen laugh as Pope Francis attended a general audience, in the San Damaso courtyard, Vatican City, last month without a face mask
While the clerics wore masks while seated during the audience, all but one took his mask off to speak to the pope.
Only one kept it on, and by the end of his tete-a-tete with Francis, had lowered it under his chin.
Vatican regulations now require face masks to be worn indoors and out where distancing can’t be ‘always guaranteed’.
The Vatican has not responded to questions about why the pope was not following either Vatican regulations or basic public health measures to prevent Covid-19.
Francis explained to the audience why he did not plunge into the crowd at the start of the audience as he usually would do.
But he said his distance from them was for their own well-being, to prevent crowds from forming around him.
He said: ‘I’m sorry for this, but it’s for your own safety. Rather than get close to you, shake your hands and greet you, I greet you from far away. But know that I’m close to you with my heart.’
He did not address his decision to forego wearing a mask.
The Pope did not wear a face mask for the duration of the audience again or when he greeted a half-dozen mask-less bishops at the end
Francis did, however, wear a white face mask throughout an inter-religious prayer service in downtown Rome yesterday, removing it only to speak.
He had previously only been seen wearing one once before as he entered and exited his car in a Vatican courtyard on September 9.
Italian law requires masks indoors and out.
At 83 years old, and with part of a lung removed when he was in his 20s due to illness, the pope would be at high risk for Covid-19 complications.
He has urged the faithful to comply with government mandates to protect public health.
In the past week, 11 Swiss Guards and a resident of the hotel where Francis lives have tested positive.
In Italy, coronavirus cases are surging, with the Lazio region around Vatican City among the hardest hit.
Lazio has more people hospitalised and in intensive care than any other region except Italy’s most populous and hardest-hit region, Lombardy.
Inside the Vatican auditorium Wednesday, the crowd wore masks as did the Swiss Guards. But Francis and his two aides did not.
Pope Francis seen delivering a speech at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Aracoeli during an inter-religious ceremony for peace in Campidoglio Square on October 20
LGBTQ Catholics and advocates have applauded Pope Francis’ message, in the hours since his remarks were made public.
Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQ-centered Catholic ministry, told USA Today: ‘This is the strongest statement of acceptance of LGBTQ people that a church official has made.
‘In the church, change happens step by step, and as Catholics around the world become more used to supporting lesbian and gay couples, they and their leaders will soon see that it makes no sense not to recognize and bless these relationships in church.’
But DeBernardo suggest the pope could go further in his support, and, in doing so, could therefore have far-reaching implications beyond just the Catholic Church.
For LGBTQ advocates, Pope Francis’ message was not just an endorsement of same-sex civil unions — a stance that he has previously aligned with publicly – but also an approval of same-sex parents having the privilege of raising families.
Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, told the network that the Pope is ‘making clear that LGBTQ people have a right to their own families.’
DeBernardo also pointed out that, notably, the Pope used the word ‘family’ in his statement — a broader sentiment than just permitting same-sex civil unions.
‘In using the word “family,” the Pope knows he is talking about more than just a couple,’ DeBernardo said, ‘otherwise he would have just said “couple.”‘
On social media, the Pope’s endorsement has also been applauded by celebrities and LGBTQ advocates alike.
Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres wrote: ‘Thank you, Pope Francis, for seeing love for what it is.’
Founder of the American Arab Institute, James J. Zogby added: ‘Daniel Berrigan once said that when the world is out of whack, it’s the prophets who remind us that 2+2=4. Simple truths that we forgot or refused, out of blindness, to recognize. Thank you Pope Francis for speaking simple truths.’
Author Jill Filipovic also celebrated the endorsement, calling it a ‘step forward’ for the church. However, she added: ‘But just a reminder that the Catholic Church is still an explicitly patriarchal, sexist institution where women are barred from leadership, and that by definition means the Pope is not “progressive.”‘
Others tweeted that the Pope’s remarks show that he is ‘more liberal and compassionate’ than Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett, a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, has repeatedly been criticized by LGBTQ rights as hostile in her dealing with issues pertaining to gay marriage and protections of transgender people.
‘Pope Francis is more liberal and compassionate than Amy Coney Barrett,’ Lindy Li wrote. ‘Those angry about him are more attached to their bigotry than to their faith. Also unlike her, he accepts the science behind climate change. Thank you. [Pope Francis].’
Legal analyst for NBC, Joyce Alene added, also drew parallels between the Pope’s remarks and Barrett’s nomination.
‘There was a time when you couldn’t be confirmed as a federal judge if you belonged to a country club that didn’t admit black people.
‘I’ve been wondering how Judge Barrett being on a school board that discriminates against LBGTQ people is different,’ Arlene wrote, adding, ‘:The Pope has entered the chat.’