Today’s post is part of Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage of Pope Francis’ support for civil unions that recognize same-gender couples and reactions to it. For previous reports and commentaries, see the bottom of this post.
In a new film, Pope Francis has announced that he supports civil unions for same-gender couples, a statement that one Catholic LGBTQ group called an “historic moment” in the life of the church.
Pope Francis made his LGBTQ-supportive remarks during interviews for the documentary Francesco, which premiered October 22nd in Rome, and will begin showing in North America at the end of this week (viewing at home available here). America reported on the civil union comments:
“The filmmaker, Evgeny Afineevsky, asked Pope Francis during an interview for the documentary about the place of L.G.B.T. Catholics in the church. Francis reemphasized his belief that L.G.B.T. people should be made to feel welcome in the church.
“‘Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,’ the pope 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.’
“But Francis said for the first time as pope that gay couples deserve legal recognition for their relationships.
“‘What we have to create is a civil union law,’ he said. ‘That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.'”
According to the National Catholic Reporter, the civil union remarks are highlighted in a section involving a gay Catholic:
“The question of civil unions comes up in the film in a segment that features Andrea Rubera, a gay Italian man who was able to participate in one of the pope’s daily Masses in the Vatican’s Santa Marta residence.
“Rubera says that he gave Francis a letter that explained conversations he and his partner were having over whether to take their children to church, fearing they might be subject to unfair judgment as children of a gay couple.
“Rubera says the pope later called him, and encouraged them take their children to church and to be honest with the pastor about their living situation.”
While this most recent statement on civil unions is significant, Pope Francis previously suggested in 2017 that same-gender relationships be referred to as civil unions rather than marriages. Previously, while cardinal/archbishop in Argentina, he endorsed civil unions as an alternative to the growing marriage equality movement in that country. (For a chronology of ALL Pope Francis’ statements and actions on LGBTQ issues, click here.)
New Ways Ministry issued a statement saying it “gratefully welcomes” the pope’s “historic” support for civil unions, but that such support needs to go further. Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented:
“At the same time, we urge Pope Francis to apply the same kind of reasoning to recognize and bless these same unions of love and support within the Catholic Church, too. Since the pope framed his support for civil unions by saying that same-gender couples are ‘right to be a part of the family,’ it would not be a long stretch for him to do so. . .
“Pope Francis support for full civil marriage rights, beyond civil unions, is needed, too. Traditionally Catholic nations have one-by-one been passing civil union and marriage equality laws for a while now. Among them: Argentina, Austria. Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ireland, Malta, Mexico (in part), Portugal, Spain, and Uruguay. Such recognition shows that overwhelming majorities of Catholic citizens support legal protections for same-gender couples.”
The statement from New Ways Ministry also noted that the pope’s comments could impact the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case, Fulton vs. City of Philadelphia, which will adjudicate what rights LGBTQ clients have at religiously-affiliated social services agencies when it comes to adoption and foster care. DeBernardo opined, “If the pope supports such couples, what should prevent lower-level Catholic officials from doing so?”
Filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, who is Jewish, chose Pope Francis as a documentary subject because of the pope’s interfaith outreach and human rights witness. Much of the film is dedicated to the pope’s pre-pandemic travels, which frequently highlighted oppressed communities like Myanmar’s Rohingya people who have faced genocide, or the refugees trapped on the Mediterranean island of Lesbos, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Afineevsky said the film premieres at a particularly important moment during Covid-19, when Francis’ ability to travel is curtailed:
“‘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.'”
In advancing the Catholic Church’s support for LGBTQ civil rights, Pope Francis indeed has sent a message of equality and acceptance that will travel the world.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 22, 2020
Bondings 2.0’s Coverage of Pope Francis & Civil Unions
October 22, 2020: “The Good and the Bad of Pope Francis’ Support for Civil Unions”
October 24, 2020: “Exuberant Praise for Pope Francis from One Bishop, But from Others, Not So Much”