Has Pope Francis endorsed same-sex marriage? The leader of the Catholic Church made headlines for comments he made for a documentary called Francesco, which debuted at the Rome Film Festival on October 21. Francis said he supported same-sex civil unions, marking the first time he has publicly endorsed such unions since he became pope.
But his exact wording is important. While Francis endorsed legal protections for same-sex couples, he did not explicitly endorse same-sex marriage in the biblical sense. In the Catholic Church, marriage is one of the seven sacraments, called matrimony. Francis has never expressed support for a same-sex couple being able to participate in the sacrament.
Here’s what you need to know:
Pope Francis Said ‘Homosexual People Have the Right to be in a Family’
Filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky interviewed Pope Francis, members of his family and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI for the new documentary. According to Vatican News, Francesco highlights Francis’ life and his teachings. The film first premiered at a film festival in Rome but was also scheduled to debut in the United States at the Savannah Film Festival on October 25.
The topic of homosexuality was addressed during one-on-one interviews with Francis. According to CBS News, Francis endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples as part of his argument that God loves all people:
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.
It was not clear when Francis sat down for that interview. Afineevsky told the New York Times that he was in the room when Francis said those words on-camera.
Francis saw the movie months before its release. ABC News reported that Afineevsky, who starred working on the project in early 2018, showed Francis the final product on an iPad in August.
An Organization for LGBTQ Catholics Praised Pope Francis for His Stance on Civil Unions But Have Urged Him to Welcome Same-Sex Marriage Within the Church Too
New Ways Ministry is a coalition of Catholics that “advocates for justice and equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, and reconciliation within the larger church and civil communities,” according to its website.
The group’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo, released a statement praising the pope’s vocal endorsement of same-sex civil unions. DeBernardo called it “a 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.”
But DeBernardo pointed out that support for civil unions is not the same thing as allowing homosexual couples to get married within the Catholic Church. He called for the pope to reverse the Church’s official stance:
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.
Matrimony Is a Sacrament Within the Catholic Church & ‘Ordained for the Procreation’ of Children
The Catholic Church has seven sacraments: Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Matrimony. The Vatican explains that part of the purpose of matrimony is to have children and to educate them in the faith:
The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.
Pope Paul VI addressed marriage and procreation in The Pastoral Constitution of the Church, written in 1965:
Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents. The God Himself Who said, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and “Who made man from the beginning male and female” (Matt. 19:4), wishing to share with man a certain special participation in His own creative work, blessed male and female, saying: “Increase and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. Who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.
The Pastoral Constitution also states, “By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.” But Paul added that marriage is about more than just procreation:
Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.
Paul further discussed that the “actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are noble and worthy ones.” He added that marriage is “sealed by mutual faithfulness and hallowed above all by Christ’s sacrament” and that “this love remains steadfastly true in body and in mind, in bright days or dark.” Paul noted that marriage should “never be profaned by adultery or divorce.”
The Pope Describes Marriage as Being Between One Man & One Woman But Endorsed Civil Unions While He Was a Cardinal
Pope Francis’ support for same-sex civil unions does not actually come as a surprise to those who have followed his teachings over the years, as the National Catholic Reporter pointed out. While he was serving as the archbishop of Buenos Aires as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, he advocated for civil unions as a type of compromise while Argentina was debating whether to legalize same-sex marriage. (The country legalized same-sex marriage in 2010).
The Associated Press cited Francis’ biographer, Sergio Rubin, on how the debate in Argentina played out. Rubin explained in 2013 that Francis encouraged other church clergy members to support civil unions because, as the AP paraphrased, “[Francis] was politically wise enough to know the church couldn’t win a straight-on fight against gay marriage.”
Since becoming the pope in 2013, Francis has reiterated the church’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. In 2017, French author Dominique Wolton interviewed Francis for a book called Politics and Society. The Catholic Telegraph reported that when Wolton asked Francis about same-sex marriage, Francis replied, “Let’s call this ‘civil unions.’ We do not joke around with truth.”
Francis also addressed the issue in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera in 2014. The reporter asked Francis whether civil unions was a “path that the Church can understand.” Here was Francis’ answer, translated from Italian:
Marriage is between a man and a woman. The secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of coexistence, driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, such as ensuring health care. These are coexistence agreements of various kinds, of which I cannot list the different forms. We need to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety.
Francis has long been viewed as more tolerant of homosexuality compared to past Church leaders. A few months after he was selected to lead the Catholic Church, he famously stated that it was not his place to judge people based on their sexual orientation. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”