Pope Francis Calls For Same-Sex Civil Union Law In New Documentary "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered," the pope said in an interview in the film Francesco, which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival.

Pope Francis Calls For Same-Sex Civil Union Law In New Documentary

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In a documentary film that's coming out soon, Pope Francis explicitly endorses civil unions for same-sex couples. That is the clearest statement he has made as pope on the subject. Not surprisingly, those comments are getting a lot of attention. Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: The comments came in a documentary film covering various aspects of the Francis papacy. Speaking to the filmmakers, the pope said, quote, "Homosexuals are children of God and have a right to a family." He said, what we have to create is a civil union law. That way, they are legally covered. I stood up for that. As the archbishop of Buenos Aires, he made statements in support of civil unions for same-sex couples - not marriage, which is a sacrament. But now he is speaking as the pope, which gives his words much more weight.

MARIANNE DUDDY-BURKE: If the statement is allowed to stand, this could be a global game changer for gay and lesbian people, for same-sex couples, for LGBTQI people broadly.

GJELTEN: Marianne Duddy-Burke is executive director of Dignity USA, which advocates for LGBTQ Catholics. She says the pope's comments are significant if they come to represent the church's position.

DUDDY-BURKE: It will be seen as recognizing the reality of same-sex relationships, of the fact that gay and lesbian people are able to make lifelong commitments to one another and that those relationships should have legal protection.

GJELTEN: The uncertainty comes from the fact that the pope's comments conflict with official church teaching, which is that there can be no legal recognition of, quote, "homosexual unions." Bill Donohue is president of the Catholic League, a conservative group.

BILL DONOHUE: It's not going to change doctrine. He doesn't have the authority to do that anyhow. He has to be the pope in communion with the bishops. That's the magisterium, or the teaching body of the church.

GJELTEN: Donahue thinks the pope may have been speaking in a pastoral way, suggesting that everyone is part of God's family.

DONOHUE: Sounds like he's throwing the gay community a bone. And he has to be careful of that because no matter what side you're on, people want you to speak with clarity on the issue. And I think it's going to be greeted with a great deal of mass confusion on the part of the laity.

GJELTEN: Advocates for LGBTQ people are among those wanting the pope's comments to be more clear. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the country, said it is hopeful the pope's comments signal a further step toward full acceptance and inclusion in Catholicism and all faiths.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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