Pope Francis has become the first Catholic pope to openly endorse same-sex civil unions. The comments were made in “Francesco,” a new documentary about his life that recently premiered at the Rome Film Festival.
The film features a series of new interviews where the pope discussed some of the issues that were most important to him, including the environment, poverty, racial and income inequality, and discrimination.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God. You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered,” Francis says in the new interview.
This is not the first time that Francis has spoken on this issue, but it is the first time that he has publicly discussed it as a sitting pope. When he was serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, he endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. Francis is now the first pope to advocate same-sex civil unions.
The Rev. James Martin, who advocates for LGBT Catholics, praised the comments as “a major step forward in the church’s support for LGBT people.”
“The pope’s speaking positively about civil unions also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws,” Martin said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.
Of course, there are also plenty of more conservative leaders in the Catholic Church who were critical of the pope’s comments.
Ed Mechmann, director of public policy at the Archdiocese of New York, said in a blog post that the pope has “made a serious mistake.”
It is also important to note the distinction between same-sex civil union and marriage. Marriage is seen as an institution of the church, although it is a tradition that has been practiced under a variety of different religions.
Fewer people these days are identifying as religious, and even fewer as catholic, but many still get married in churches out of a sense of tradition. Some of the more conservative churches still want to refuse to formally recognize a same-sex civil union as a “marriage,” and wish to separate these into two classifications.
For most people, equality under the law and legal recognition of the union is what is most important, but recognition by the church will still be important for members of the LGBT community who identify as catholic.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an organization of LGBT Catholics, said that the pope’s comments are “historic.”
“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,” he said in a statement.
Francis is the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III, who reigned in the 8th century.
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