The head of the Catholic religion, Pope Francis has issuing his most explicit backing to the same-sex civil unions in a move that is likely to further enrage his conservative opponents in the Catholic church.
His comments came in an interview in a documentary film, Francesco, which premiered at the Rome film festival on Wednesday.
He said: “Homosexual people have a 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. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”
The feature-length film, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, tells the story of Francis’s papacy over the past seven and a half years, covering many of the trips he made before the Covid-19 pandemic and his handling of the sexual abuse scandals that have engulfed the church.
It also focuses on issues that Francis has made the hallmarks of his papacy, including the environment, poverty, migration and inequality.
As pope, Francis has never previously publicly backed civil unions for same-sex couples, although as he endorsed such legal arrangements when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Father James Martin, a prominent Jesuit who has argued that the church should be more welcoming to LGBT people, wrote on Twitter: “Pope Francis’s support for same-sex civil unions is a major step forward in the church’s support of LGBTQ people. It is in keeping with
his pastoral approach to LGBT people, including LGBT Catholics, and sends a strong signal to countries where the church has opposed such laws.”
A spokesperson for António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations and a devout Catholic, said the pope’s comments were “a very positive move”. Guterres had “spoken out very forcefully against homophobia in favour of LGBTQ rights, that people should never be persecuted or discriminated against just for who they love,” they added.
The Ozanne Foundation, which advocates for LGBT equality in religious settings, welcomed the pope’s comments, saying: “This will bring hope to millions of lesbian and gay couples around the world, and will enable them to know that they have the pope’s blessing to be in a family, and indeed to have a right to a family.
“His words of comfort show a deep pastoral understanding of the pain that many LGBT [people] have gone through, and provide a significant challenge to all those who see their faith as a reason to discriminate against LGBT people.”
Since he was elected pope in March 2013, Francis has sought to adopt a more inclusive tone towards LGBT people in his public statements.
Soon after becoming pope, he said in response to a question about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?”
Last month, he reportedly told a group representing the parents of LGBT children that “God loves your children as they are” and “the pope loves your children as they are, because they are children of God”.
In 2018, Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of sexual abuse who met the pope – and who features in the documentary – said: “He told me: ‘Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.’”
According to traditional church teaching, marriage can only be between a man and a woman, and the church has opposed legal recognition of same-sex unions.
In 2003, a Vatican document set out why it was “necessary to oppose legal recognition of homosexual unions” because they “obscure certain basic moral values and cause a devaluation of the institution of marriage”.
Pope Francis’s conservative opponents have been infuriated by statements that they regard as part of an effort to shift the church towards progressive values. Some have publicly attacked him, even accusing him of heresy.
Afineevsky, an award-winning Russian-born director, said he hoped the film would be released for home streaming.
“If before he was able to travel to every periphery in the world, right now, only his words can travel. That’s why for me releasing the movie right now was so important – so that his words and his actions can travel around the world,” he said.