Pope Francis calls for civil union law for same-sex couples, in shift from Vatican stance

CNA Staff, Oct 21, 2020 / 06:35 am (CNA).-  

In a documentary that premiered Wednesday in Rome, Pope Francis called for the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples, departing from the position of the Vatican’s doctrinal office and the pope’s predecessors on the issue.

The remarks came amid a portion of the documentary that reflected on pastoral care for those who identify as LGBT. 

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis said in the film, of his approach to pastoral care.

After those remarks, and in comments likely to spark controversy among Catholics, Pope Francis weighed in directly on the issue of civil unions for same-sex couples.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope said. “I stood up for that.”

The remarks come in “Francesco,” a documentary on the life and ministry of Pope Francis which premiered Oct. 21 as part of the Rome Film Festival, and is set to make its North American premiere on Sunday.

The film chronicles the approach of Pope Francis to pressing social issues, and to pastoral ministry among those who live, in the words of the pontiff, “on the existential peripheries.”

Featuring interviews with Vatican figures including Cardinal Luis Tagle and other collaborators of the pope, “Francesco” looks at the pope’s advocacy for migrants and refugees, the poor, his work on the issue of clerical sexual abuse, the role of women in society, and the disposition of Catholics and others toward those who identify as LGBT.

The film addresses the pastoral outreach of Pope Francis to those who identify as LGBT, including a story of the pontiff encouraging two Italian men in a same-sex relationship to raise their children in their parish church, which, one of the men said, was greatly beneficial to his children.

“He didn’t mention what was his opinion on my family. Probably he’s following the doctrine on this point,” the man said, while praising the pope for a disposition and attitude of welcome and encouragement.

The pope’s remarks on civil unions come amid that part of the documentary. Filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky told CNA that the pope made his call for civil unions during an interview the documentarian conducted with the pope.

The pope’s direct call for civil union laws represents a shift from the perspective of his predecessors, and from his own more circumspect positions on civil unions in the past.

In 2010, while he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis opposed efforts to legalize same-sex marriage. While Sergio Rubin, the future pope’s biographer, suggested that Francis supported the idea of civil unions as a way to prevent the wholesale adoption of same-sex marriage in Argentina, Miguel Woites, director of the Argentinian Catholic news outlet AICA, dismissed in 2013 that claim as false.

But the pope’s mention of having previously “stood up” for civil unions seems to confirm the reports of Rubin and others who said that then-Cardinal Bergoglio supported privately the idea of civil unions as a compromise in Argentina.

In the 2013 book “On Heaven and Earth,” Pope Francis did not reject the possibility of civil unions outright, but did say that laws “assimilating” homosexual relationships to marriage are “an anthropological regression,” and he expressed concern that if same-sex couples “are given adoption rights, there could be affected children. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity.”

In 2014, Fr. Thomas Rosica, who was then working in the Holy See’s press office told CNA that Pope Francis had not expressed support for same-sex civil unions, after some journalists reported that he had done so in an an interview that year. While a civil unions proposal was debated in Italy, Rosica emphasized that Francis would not weigh in on the debate, but would emphasize Catholic teaching on marriage.

In 2003, under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and at the direction of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taught that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society.”

“Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself,” the CDF added, calling support for such unions from politicians “gravely immoral.”

“Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual unions fulfil the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific categorical recognition. On the contrary, there are good reasons for holding that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human society, especially if their impact on society were to increase,” the document said.

The Vatican’s press office did not respond to questions from CNA on the pope’s remarks in the film.

While bishops in some countries have not opposed same-sex civil unions proposals, and tried instead to distinguish them from civil marriage, opponents of civil unions have long warned that they serve as a legislative and cultural bridge to same-sex marraige initiatives, give tacit approval to immorality, and fail to protect the rights of children to be parented by both a mother and father.

Afineevsky told EWTN News this month that he tried in “Francesco” to present the pope as he saw him, and that the film might not please all Catholics. He told CNA Wednesday that in his view, the film is not “about” the pope’s call for civil unions, but “about many other global issues.”

"I’m looking at him not as the pope, I’m looking at him as a humble human being, great role model to younger generation, leader for the older generation, a leader to many people not in the sense of the Catholic Church, but in the sense of pure leadership, on the ground, on the streets,” Afineevsky added.

The documentarian said he began working with the Vatican to produce a film on Pope Francis in 2018, and was given unprecedented access to Pope Francis until filming completed in June, amid Italy’s coronavirus lockdowns.

Afineevsky, a Russian-born filmmaker living in the U.S., was in 2015 nominated for both an Academy Award and an Emmy Award for his work “Winter on Fire,” a documentary that chronicled Ukraine’s 2013 and 2014 Euromaidan protests. His 2017 film “Cries from Syria” was nominated for four News and Documentary Emmy Awards and three Critics’ Choice Awards.

On Thursday, Afineevsky will be presented in the Vatican Gardens with the prestigious Kineo Movie for Humanity Award, which recognizes filmmakers who present social and humanitarian issues through filmmaking. The award was established in 2002 by the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Rosetta Sannelli, the creator of the Kineo Awards, noted that “every trip of Pope Francis to various parts of the world is documented in Afineevsky's work, in images and news footage, and reveals itself as an authentic glimpse into the events of our time, a historical work in all respects.”


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  1. “Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family.” That is not the point. The question to Pope Francis is: Do homosexuals have the right to start a family? They certainly don’t have the natural right to do so since nature is in opposition to it. Therefore Pope Francis must be saying that homosexuals have a “civil” right to start a family. Yet, why as Pope would you put forth such a right concerning the (nuclear) family? It is precisely because Pope Francis holds to entirely different meaning as to what a family is. Further why does Pope Francis encourage same-sex couples to raise their children in the Church? It is precisely because he has a very different idea of what the Church is! You quote Afineevsky as saying, “I’m looking at him not as the pope…”. Well, that I can mostly agree with.

  2. I’ll ask again: where’s God? What’s he doing? I’ve just about had it. He’s doing nothing to help his people, his bride, his Church, the world. Everything is going to pot.

    • Stop posting your tantrums against God on the site. If you are struggling with questions concerning the relationship between divine sovereignty and human evil, there are any number of excellent books out there you can begin studying. So get to work instead of posting your adolescent tirades and faux outrage here.

  3. Who is surprised that F1 would endorse the james Martin left fanatics…
    Little wonder that he has done nothing to release the Mr mccarrick files…

    • Not surprising at all, unfortunately. “Fr.” James Martin, SCH did report feeling supported and encouraged by his meeting with Francis. I guess the handwriting was on the wall!

  4. How can we faithful Catholics have respect for this Pope who ignores the teachings of Jesus Christ and the magisterium of the Church of the ages. What is wrong with our bishops that they are not crying in outrage at the twisted teachings of this man. He should have been deposed long ago

  5. Once more trying to square the circle.

    How can this not be seen, especially by the secular world, as tacitly approving the homosexual relationship?

  6. I am in shock. God help the catholic church. Many will leave many ate searching and will not find many will lose hope God please come to our rescue. This is so tragic

  7. I am exremely tired of stupid, confusing statements emanating from the Pope. It is evil to confuse people and lie to them by speaking confusingly. “They deserve a family,” do they? There’s nothing to stop them from having a family – their parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, unles, nieces, nephews. In fact, if a homosexual man wants to be married, he is free to marry a woman. But NOBODY has a right to do evil.

    From Fr. Bryan Houghton’s novel, Crook and Mitre: “Disloyalty to the Pope is a more serious consideration. … We are not talking about the Pope as a person but about the divine institution of the Papacy. It is abundantly clear that loyalty to the divine institution is quite distinct from loyalty to its temporary incumbent. Indeed, the two can run clean contrary to each other as history illustrates on almost every page from St Paul onwards. My favorite example is the Blessed Colomba of Retie. You certainly do not know the story since your reading is confined to watching television. (You see, I can be as rude as you if I like.)

    “Anyway, Colomba was a Dominican nun who lived in Perugia. She suffered from almost every type of mystical phenomenon—ecstasy, inedible, levitation and the rest. The Master of the Dominicans felt uncertain whether her spirit was from God or from the Devil. This was about 1490, when people still believed in both. In consequence he would have the girl examined by the Holy Father himself who was on a visit to his favorite son, Cesare. This was duly arranged. In the great hall at Perugia, which you have doubtless visited, there sat enthroned the Sovereign Pontiff, Alexander VI, with Cesare on his right, Lucretia on his left and the Papal Court around. Colomba was introduced. Upon sight of the Vicar of Christ she immediately went into ecstasy, as should all good nuns. I seem to remember that she levitated and railed at the Pope from somewhere near the ceiling. “You who are the Vicar of Christ and act as the vicar of Satan! You who hold the Keys of the Kingdom but only unlock the doors of brothels! You who are captain of the Ark of Salvation and have a girl in every port! You who. . . .” After twenty minutes of this sort of stuff, the Papal Court felt rather anxious for poor Colomba’s safety. How do you get girls out of ecstasy? However, Alexander Borgia turned to the Master of the Dominicans: “Have no fear, my son; her spirit is certainly from God since everything she says is true.”

    “I sometimes wish that I were an ecstatic Dominican nun. I could keep going for well over twenty minutes. What I doubt whether the sixth Paul has the humility of the sixth Alexander. Admittedly, it is far more difficult to be humble if one sins between the ears than if one sins between the sheets. Anyway, the point is perfectly clear: Colomba was in opposition to the person of the Pope precisely out of loyalty to the institution of the Papacy.””

    I honestly do not see how an Alexander VI could be worse. Personal sins set a bad example, but people with sense know that everyone is subject to temptation and some of them fail to resist. But encouraging others to sin is a great deal more wrong.

  8. I am so *ANGRY* that he is in essence encouraging people to commit mortal sin – one of the sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance. Is it next going to be “People deserve to belong to families and therefore there should be civil unions for adults with children? With animals? With brothers or sisters or parents?

    I went to Father Z’s blog and read something I hadn’t realized: “Today – the 1st anniversary of when the demon idols of the hideous Pachamama were pitched into the Tiber River [HERE] – we learn that Francis has openly called for civil unions for homosexuals.” https://wdtprs.com/2020/10/francis-has-openly-called-for-civil-unions-for-homosexuals-wherein-fr-z-rants/

  9. CNA’s headline is ridiculous: “in shift from Vatican stance,” my foot; it’s in complete defiance of Church teaching. Nobody has a right to do wrong.

  10. In all due respect this appears to be a radical concept lending its way to pathways that conflict with the Bible and Church teachings. Fatima the final apparition showed the “Holy Family” to represent and model for us what “FAMILY” is to be. I certainly agree we should respect the dignity of every individual and all are part of family for they were born into family and have a mother and a father. Only in this union could they be. Their choices past this are not our business. Why is the Pope introducing this concept? To lose many many more Catholics for the smaller population of opposition? So sad for what the church has already been experiencing with the Priests under attack for misbehaviors and we the people who have to suffer this as well. I pray for the Pope and those who govern under him that clearly the discernment of Jesus Christ is leading his heart. Thank you

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