Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, has endorsed same-sex civil unions thereby making him the first pontiff to do so in a landmark move that has been welcomed with mixed reactions.
The pope’s endorsement came midway through a feature-length documentary, titled “Francesco”, which premiered at the Rome film festival on Wednesday. The documentary features fresh interviews with the pope, delves into issues Francis cares about most, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.
“Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family”, Pope Francis said.
“Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”
While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favour of civil unions as pope.
Traditionally, the Catholic Church considers sexual activity between members of the same sex to be a sin. According to the Catholic theology of sexuality, all sexual acts must be open to procreation and express the symbolism of male-female complementarity.
The Catholic Church, however, teaches that persons experiencing homosexual tendencies must be accorded respect and dignity.
LGBTQ Catholics and advocates have applauded Pope Francis’ message in the hours since his remarks were made public.
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit who has sought to build bridges with gay 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.
Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQ-centered Catholic ministry, told DailyMail.com: “It is an historic moment when the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, long seen as a persecutor of LGBTQ people, moves in such a supportive direction for lesbian/gay couples and their families.
“It signals that the church is continuing to develop more positively its approach to LGBTQ issues.”
However, conservative Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, called for clarification. “The pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions,” he said in a statement. “The church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.”
And Ed Mechmann, director of public policy at the Archdiocese of New York, said in a blog post that the pope had simply “made a serious mistake.”