A new documentary about the life of Pope Francis gave hope to LGBTQ+ people of faith when the pontiff was quoted as calling for the creation of a “civil union law” for same-sex couples, the strongest statement of support for some type of marriage equality to date from a high-ranking official in the Catholic church. Those hopes were dampened almost immediately with reports that the pope’s comments were taken out of context from an earlier interview, and might not even be translated correctly.
Pope Francis made the statements in the documentary, Francesco, by Evgeny Afineevsky, the Oscar-nominated director of Winter on Fire.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family," Pope Francis said in the film at one point. "They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it."
Francis appeared to go even further when he said “what we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”
However, the National Catholic Register subsequently reported the Pope’s words were taken out of context from a previously published interview where he disapproved of same-sex sexual relations — this section was previously unpublishd. In that interview, the pope followed up those statements by noting: “That does not mean approving of homosexual acts, not in the least.”
Acording to Televisa, who aired the original interview, they didn't include the civil unions quotes in the published version of their May 2019 story because at the time they were focused on clergy sexual abuse. The statements also nod back to previous statements Francis made prior to becoming pope where he advocated for same-sex civil unions in lieu of marriage equality. But just uttering statements doesn't make it canon.
“These comments from the pope are so alarming and worrisome,” Benjamin Brenkert, a gay former Jesuit seminarian who left the church after they refused to ordain him due to his sexual orientation, tells Out. “As a former Jesuit, and insider, the Pope's recent sentences mean little beyond sentiment. These words are neither substantial nor game changing.”
According to Brenkert, who wrote a book about his experiences, A Catechism of the Heart: A Jesuit Missioned to the Laity, the pope’s words are “not doctrine, they are not Vatican policy.”
Brenkert also notes there are questions about whether the translation of the pope’s words into English is accurate, and “whether these words are a hybrid of previous information espoused by the Pope.”
Regardless of the accuracy of the translation or the intent of the pope when he made the statement, he is already receiving pushback from dioceses. Bishop Michael Olson of the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth issued statement declaring the “church’s teaching on marriage has not changed and cannot change.”
In a direct challenge to the pope’s statements, Olson went on to claim “it is a misunderstanding of rights to suggest or infer that legal arrangements of civil societies can confer a status equivalent to marriage to couples who do not conform to God’s intention and design for marriage.”