Pope Francis, in shift for church, voices support for same-sex civil unions

click to enlarge Pope Francis, in shift for church, voices support for same-sex civil unions
Catholic Church in England and Wales photo
Pope Francis
By Jason Horowitz
The New York Times Company

Pope Francis expressed support for same-sex civil unions in remarks made in a documentary that premiered Wednesday, a significant break from his predecessors that staked out new ground for the church in its recognition of gay people.

The remarks, coming from the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, had the potential to shift debates about the legal status of same-sex couples in nations around the globe and unsettle bishops worried that the unions threaten marriage.

“What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” Francis said, reiterating his view that gay people are children of God. “I stood up for that.”

Many gay Catholics and their allies outside the church welcomed the pope’s remarks, even as they said they understood Francis’ opposition to same-sex marriage within the church remained absolute.

His conservative critics within the church hierarchy and especially in the conservative wing of the church in the United States, who have for years accused him of diluting church doctrine, saw the remarks as a contradiction of church teaching.

Evgeny Afineevsky, director of the documentary, "Francesco," which debuted at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday, said that Francis made the remarks directly to him for the film. He did not reply to a question about when the remarks were made by the pope, who had previously supported civil unions as the cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Francis had already drastically shifted the tone of the church on questions related to homosexuality, but he has done little on policy and not changed doctrine, leading even some of his more liberal supporters to question whether he was mostly talk.

The remarks in the documentary were in keeping with Francis’ general support for gay people but were perhaps his most specific and prominent on the issue of civil unions, which even traditionally Catholic nations like Italy, Ireland and Argentina have permitted in recent years.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family," Francis says at another point in the documentary. "They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.”

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