Pope Francis spoke out in favor of same-sex civil unions, saying that homosexuals were "children of God and have a right to a family." Commenting on the issue in a documentary, the pontiff called for a civil union law.
Pope Francis has made his most explicit endorsement of same-sex partnerships since becoming the leader of the Catholic Church. The remarks are shown in a new documentary that premiered on Wednesday.
In the film, the pontiff urged a "civil union law" that would allow LGBT+ people to "be in a family."
"They are children of God and have a right to a family," he said in the documentary "Francesco" which premiered at the Rome Film Festival.
"Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it."
The now-pope already spoke out in favor of civil unions while serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires. He lauded such partnerships as an alternative to gay marriage, but opposed same-sex marriage itself.
However, this is the first time that the 83-year-old pontiff publicly endorsed same-sex unions since taking the papal seat.
"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that," the pope added.
The Catholic Church persecuted gay people during large parts of its history and it still views homosexuality as an "intrinsic disorder." The church also teaches that homosexual acts are sinful, but its modern stance is that being gay is not a sin on its own.
Pope Francis, born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, has made several reconciliatory gestures towards the LGBT+ community since taking the helm of the church in 2013. However, he remains opposed to gay marriage.
Jesuit author James Martin, who serves as a consultant to the Vatican's Secretariat for Communications, praised the pope's move as a "major step forward."
"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," he wrote on Twitter.
A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who is Catholic, described the pope's remarks as "a very positive move."
"The Secretary-General has spoken out very forcefully against homophobia in favor of LGBTQ rights, that people should never persecuted or discriminated against just for who they love," Guterres' spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
While Francis' remarks were celebrated by some, conservatives within the church called for clarification.
"The pope's statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions," Thomas Tobin, a conservative bishop in the US state of Rhode Island said in a statement. "The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships."
The documentary was directed by filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, a Russian-born US national of Jewish background. In addition to the pope, it also features other senior clergymen as well as a gay survivor of sexual abuse.
The documentary also details an interaction between the pope and a gay man who, together with his partner, adopted three children.
The man says he gave the pope a letter explaining his situation, saying that he and his partner wanted to raise the children Catholic but did not know how they would be received.
The pope allegedly called the man several days later, saying he was moved by the letter and asking him to introduce the children to the local parish despite possible opposition.
"The main thread of this movie is more about us as human beings, who are creating disasters every day. And he [the pope] is the one who is connecting us through these threads," the film's director Afineevsky said in an interview.
dj/rs (AP, Reuters)