Vatican says Church does not support same-sex civil unions – despite Pope comments

Guidance sent to Vatican ambassadors claims documentary spliced together parts of old interview

Alessio Perrone
Monday 02 November 2020 16:28 GMT
Pope Francis
Pope Francis (Getty Images)
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The Vatican has said comments by Pope Francis on civil union laws in a documentary last month were taken out of context and did not signal a change in Church doctrine on homosexuals or support for same-sex marriage.

The documentary, Francesco, which premiered at the Rome film festival on 21 October, made headlines for a comment in which the pope says that homosexuals have a right to be in a family and that civil union laws covering homosexuals are needed.

The pope’s comments as portrayed prompted praise from liberals and calls for urgent clarification from conservatives.

But last week, the Vatican secretariat of state issued guidance to its ambassadors all over the world to explain the pope’s remarks. 

It claimed that the documentary spliced together parts of an old interview, deleting the context and the interviewer’s questions.

“More than a year ago, during an interview, Pope Francis answered two different questions at two different times that, in the aforementioned documentary, were edited and published as a single answer without proper contextualisation, which has led to confusion,” reads the guidance, an unsigned version of which was posted on social media on Sunday by the Vatican nuncio to Mexico, Franco Coppola.

Before the film’s premiere, director Evgeny Afineevsky told reporters he had interviewed the pope. After the premiere, he repeated that the footage came from an interview with the pope with a translator present.

But the comments appear to have been taken from a May 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa that was never aired, although the Vatican did not confirm or deny it – it only said that the comments were taken from a 2019 interview.

The Vatican did not comment on the allegations published in Italy and Mexico that it cut the quote it provided Televisa after the interview, which was filmed with Vatican cameras.

In the interview, Pope Francis said: “homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it.”

The Vatican note said the comments referred to parents with gay children and the need not to kick them out or discriminate against them. Francis was not endorsing the right of gay couples to adopt children, even though the placement of the quote in the documentary made it seem that he was.

Later in the 2019 interview, Pope Francis answered a different question by saying: “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”

The guidance says that Pope Francis Francis was explaining his position in 2010 when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires. He opposed same-sex marriage but welcomed extending legal protections to gay couples. 

The documentary left out footage from the same interview in which Francis said: “it is an incongruence to speak of homosexual marriage.”

“It is clear that Pope Francis was referring to certain state provisions and certainly not the doctrine of the Church, which he has reaffirmed numerous times over the years,” the Vatican note said.

Francis’s comments caused uproar partly because the Vatican's doctrine office issued a document in 2003 in which it prohibited endorsing civil unions

The document, which was signed by Francis’s predecessor as pope, says the church’s support for gay people “cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

The Catholic Church teaches that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect and that homosexual tendencies are not sinful – but also that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”. 

Neither the Vatican nor Afineevsky has answered questions about the cut quote or its origin.

Additional reporting by AP

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