Pope comments supporting gay civil unions 'were taken out of context', Vatican says

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Pope did NOT give his full support to gay civil unions: Pontiff's comments 'were taken out of context' by documentary makers 'who cut out statements', Vatican says

Pope Francis appeared to support civil unions in new documentary FrancescoThe Vatican has now claimed the quotes were selectively edited in the filmThe Church said the film omitted the Pope's other remarks about homosexuality

By Reuters

Published: 12:35 GMT, 2 November 2020 | Updated: 16:38 GMT, 2 November 2020

The Vatican says 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 October 21, 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 prompted praise from liberals and calls for urgent clarification from conservatives.

The Vatican says comments by Pope Francis on civil union laws in a documentary last month were taken out of context

The documentary's director, Russian-born American citizen Evgeny Afineevsky (pictured), has refused to discuss the editing process

How previous popes have approached same-sex civil unions 

John Paul II (October 1978 to April 2005)

Pope John Paul II condemned same-sex marriage during his tenure and branded it as an attack on the fabric of society before calling on Catholics to combat what he said was an aggressive attempt to legally undermine the family.

'Attacks on marriage and the family, from an ideological and legal aspect, are becoming stronger and more radical every day,' he said in a statement in 2004.

'Who destroys this fundamental fabric causes a profound injury to society and provokes often irreparable damage.'   

Benedict XVI (April 2005 to February 2013)

'A century ago, anyone would have thought it absurd to talk about homosexual marriage,' Benedict previously said in an interview with German journalist Peter Seewald.

Benedict continued that equal marriage rights, alongside abortion and reproductive technologies were of the Antichrist.

He said: 'Modern society is in the middle of formulating an anti-Christian creed, and if one opposes it, one is being punished by society with excommunication.

'The fear of this spiritual power of the Antichrist is then only more than natural, and it really needs the help of prayers on the part of an entire diocese and of the Universal Church in order to resist it.'

Last week, the Vatican's Secretariat of State quietly sent an 'explanatory note' to its ambassadors, who sent it to bishops.

The note was first reported by papal biographer Austen Ivereigh. 

A Vatican source confirmed it on Monday and the Vatican's ambassador to Mexico posted it on his Facebook page.

It says that two separate quotes in response to separate questions were spliced to appear as one, deleting the intervening context and questions.

The documentary's director, Russian-born American citizen Evgeny Afineevsky, told reporters he interviewed the pope but journalists later found the footage in a 2019 interview with Mexico's Televisa. Some was not previously aired.

After the documentary premiered, Afineevsky refused to discuss the editing process. It was not immediately possible to contact him for comment on the Vatican note.

The note said that in the first quote, the pope was referring to the right of homosexuals to be accepted by their own families as children and siblings.

Some saw the comments as homosexuals having a right to form families.

The note said the documentary cut comments where the pope expressed opposition to opposed homosexual marriage and made clear he was referring to civil union laws, which some countries have enacted to regulate benefits such as health care.

A phrase where Francis said 'it is an incongruence to speak of homosexual marriage' was cut.

'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 note said.

The Church teaches that homosexual tendencies are not sinful but homosexual acts are and that homosexuals must be treated with respect.

The Pope appeared to say in the film: 'Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it.

'What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.'

Francis's predecessors, including Benedict XVI and John Paul II, condemned same-sex marriage during their papal tenure.

Francis himself had opposed legislation to approve same-sex marriages in Argentina when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires a decade ago - but had supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples at the time. 

However, shortly after becoming Pope, he said of gay people that 'we must be brothers'.

He added: 'If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge him?' 

For LGBTQ advocates, Pope Francis' apparent message was not just seen an endorsement of same-sex civil unions, but also an approval of same-sex parents having the privilege of raising families.  

On social media, his comments were applauded by celebrities, commentators and members of LGBTQ community alike. 

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres wrote: 'Thank you, Pope Francis, for seeing love for what it is.'

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