Pope Francis declares support for same-sex civil unions for the first time as pope

Pope Francis greets the crowd during his general audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican Oct. 14, 2020. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Gay couples deserve legal protections for their relationships, Pope Francis said in a new documentary. Also in the film, which premiered in Rome on Oct. 21, less than two weeks before the U.S. presidential election, the pope condemns the Trump administration’s child separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, which he calls “cruelty of the highest form.”

The filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, included footage of the pope answering a question about the place of L.G.B.T. Catholics in the church. (Subsequently, questions have arisen about whether that footage was from an Mr. Afineevsky’s interview with the pope or archival footage from an earlier interview.) In his answer, Francis reemphasized his belief that L.G.B.T. people should be made to feel welcome in the church.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” the pope said. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.”

Gay couples deserve legal protections for their relationships, Pope Francis said in a new documentary.

But Francis said for the first time as pope that gay couples deserve legal recognition for their relationships.

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

Before he was elected pope, Francis served as archbishop of Buenos Aires, and in that role, he advocated for same-sex civil unions in an attempt to block a same-sex marriage law. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, which then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio called a “destructive attack on God’s plan.” But in meetings with other Argentine bishops, Cardinal Bergoglio urged them to support civil unions as a way to keep marriage distinctly heterosexual. Bishops rejected the idea, but an L.G.B.T. activist in Argentina said the cardinal called him to say he personally supported the idea of civil unions. The comments in this new documentary represent his most public declaration of support for same-sex unions since becoming pope.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” the pope said. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family.”

As pope, Francis has urged a more welcoming church for L.G.B.T. people, beginning with his response to a question in 2013 about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” He has met with L.G.B.T. Catholics throughout his pontificate, and though he has issued repeated warnings against what he calls “gender ideology,” Pope Francis has urged Catholics to focus on the humanity of L.G.B.T. people. Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse who clashed with church leaders over the pope’s handling of sexual abuse in Chile, has developed a friendship with Francis. In the documentary, Mr. Cruz says he has discussed his sexuality with the pope, who told him, “God made you gay. God loves you like you are and you have to love yourself.”

[Explainer: What Pope Francis actually said about civil unions—and why it matters]

The film, “Francesco,” also focuses heavily on human rights, an issue Mr. Afineevsky covered in his previous films, including the 2017 documentary “Cries from Syria” about the country’s devastating civil war. In a section on the rights of migrants, Pope Francis condemns the Trump administration policy of separating families trying to enter the United States illegally.

“It’s cruelty, and separating kids from parents goes against natural rights,” the pope says. “It’s something a Christian cannot do.”

Also in the film, the pope condemns the Trump administration’s child separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, which he calls “cruelty of the highest form.”

The tension between Pope Francis and President Trump dates back to the 2016 election, when the pope took issue with Mr. Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Francesco” chronicles the seven-year reign of Francis by focusing on issues championed by the pope, including combating climate change, rights for migrants and an increased role for women in the church. Mr. Afineevsky told America creating his film about the civil war in Syria felt like a “journey into the darkest side of today's humanity” and that he wanted his next project to focus on love and light. A friend suggested he profile Pope Francis, and though he is Jewish, Mr. Afineevsky was intrigued by the idea, drawn by the pope’s interfaith outreach.

“Pope Francis embraces humanity,” Mr. Afineevsky said. “That’s what this movie teaches, the importance of being united, of being kind, of spreading love.”

Update, Oct. 22: The second paragraph of this story has been updated to reflect questions about from which interview the pope’s comments about L.G.B.T. Catholics were drawn.

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