POPE Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pontiff while being interviewed for the feature-length documentary “Francesco,” which premiered on Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, at the Rome Film Festival.
The papal thumbs-up came midway through the film that 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 in one of his sit-down interviews for the film. “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.”
The Archdiocese of Cebu, for its part, refused to issue a statement on the pontiff’s remarks; it will wait for the Vatican to issue a clarification on the matter.
Archdiocese spokesperson Msgr. Joseph Tan said he asked Monsignor Jan Thomas Limchua, a papal household member who was recently granted the honorific rank of “Chaplain of His Holiness,” about the news that became viral on social media.
Tan said Limchua had told him to wait for the Vatican’s official statement.
Favoring civil union
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 favor of civil unions as pope.
The Jesuit priest who has been at the forefront in seeking to build bridges with gays in the church, the Rev. James Martin, praised the pope’s 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.
Director Evgeny 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 some well-connected Argentines in Rome.
The director worked official and unofficial channels starting in early 2018, and ended up so close to Francis by the end of the project that he showed the pope the movie on his iPad in August.
The two recently exchanged Yom Kippur greetings; Afineevsky is a Russian-born Jew who lives in Los Angeles.
Outreach to gays
Francis’ outreach to gays dates to his first foreign trip in 2013, when he uttered the now-famous words “Who am I to judge,” when asked during an airborne news conference returning home from Rio de Janiero about a purportedly gay priest.
Since then, he has ministered to gays and transsexual prostitutes, and welcomed people in gay partnerships into his inner circle. One of them was his former student, Yayo Grassi, who along with his partner visited Francis at the Vatican’s Washington D.C. embassy during the pope’s 2015 visit to the U.S.
The Vatican publicized that encounter, making video and photos of it available, after Francis was ambushed during that same visit by his then-ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, who invited the anti-gay marriage activist Kim Davis to meet with the pope.
News of the Davis audience made headlines at the time and was viewed by conservatives as a papal stamp of approval for Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
The Vatican, however, vigorously sought to downplay it, with the Vatican spokesman saying the meeting by no means indicated Francis’ support for her or her position on gay marriage.
However, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was fervently opposed to gay marriage when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Then, he launched what gay activists remember as a “war of God” against Argentina’s move to approve gay marriage.
But the pope’s authorized biographer, Sergio Rubin, at the time of his 2013 election said Bergoglio was politically wise enough to know the church couldn’t win a straight-on fight against gay marriage. Instead, Rubin said, Bergoglio urged his fellow bishops to lobby for gay civil unions instead.
It wasn’t until his proposal was shot down by the conservative bishops’ conference that Bergoglio publicly declared his opposition, and the church lost the issue altogether.
Francis, in the new documentary, confirms Rubin’s account of what transpired. Of his belief in the need for legislation to protect gays living in civil relationships, he said: “I stood up for that.” / AP WITH WBS