In a move that is likely to further anger his conservative opponents, Pope Francis has broken with the traditional position of the Roman Catholic Church by supporting civil unions for same-sex couples. His emphatic advocacy was announced in an interview in the new documentary film, Francesco, which premiered at the Rome film festival on Wednesday. “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” said Francis. “They are children of God. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
The film, directed by Evgeny Afineevsky, documents Francis’ papacy including his consistent push to adopt a more inclusive tone toward the LGBTQ+ community. He has reportedly spoken often about his ministry to LGBTQ+ Catholics, and while his remarks have often expressed understanding and welcoming, his outreach has previously left out substantive policies such as legal recognition. In the same interview, Francis 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.”
In his comments, he stopped short of endorsing marriage, but since he was elected pope in March 2013, Francis has sought to represent a more inclusive tone toward the LGBTQ+ community, among other issues related to gender and sexuality. Over the years, he also advocated for gender equality, a more forgiving stance toward women who get abortions, and abolishing the church’s secrecy around sexual abuse.
But the Pope has long held these beliefs. While he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he supported civil unions; however, in the more than seven years that he has been pope, this is the first time he has said as much publicly. “I think it’s a big step forward,” Father James Martin, a Jesuit who has argued that the church should welcome LGBTQ+ people, told the Washington Post. “In the past, even civil unions were frowned upon in many quarters of the church. He is putting his weight behind legal recognition of same-sex civil unions.”
Francis’ remarks are a departure from the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which contains the religion’s dogmas and beliefs, it considers “homosexual acts” as “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law.” It doesn’t, however, consider “homosexual orientation” sinful in and of itself, and specifies that “such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
This has not stopped previous popes focusing on religious law over love. Catechism over compassion. Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, called homosexuality an “intrinsic moral evil.” And while Francis has not altered church doctrine by supporting same-sex civil unions, he is pushing the Catholic Church in a more inclusive direction. Last month, Francis reportedly told a group representing parents of LGBTQ+ children that “God loves your children as they are” and “the pope loves your children as they are, because they are children of God.”
His previous attempts to do this have resulted in more conservative Catholics accusing him of adjusting teachings for modern times, reports the Washington Post, but he seems undeterred.