[This article has been updated. Click here]

There was a stir in Catholic media today that began when Catholic News Agency reported that Pope Francis had expressed support for the recognition of same-sex unions. According to CNA, Francis was quoted as saying:

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it … What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered … I stood up for that.”

CNA also took the opportunity to cite a 2003 CDF document on government proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons. This CDF document states that “legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself.”

Therefore, according to CNA, there was a “shift in the Vatican stance.” Of course, this is an overstatement. What the Pope says in a documentary in his private capacity does not constitute an official “Vatican stance”, nor is it magisterial.

Still, a cacophony ensued, in which the usual voices used this proof—yet again—that Pope Francis is heterodox.

Fortunately, in the midst of this cacophony, some people on social media were apparently able to get ahold of the incendiary clip. We see it here:

After a bit of research, I discovered that these clips are actually not original to the documentary, but are from a 2019 interview that the Pope granted to Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki. The video of the full interview can be watched here. (NOTE: Unfortunately, the video we linked earlier was taken down by YouTube. This video below apparently cannot be viewed in the United States, but we have tested it and it works in Portugal and Canada):


The full transcript (in Spanish) can be read here.

In the video, the part where Pope Francis mentions that homosexuals have a right to a family appears after the 56-minute mark. Please note that the words, the background, the tone of voice, and the gestures of the pope match the clip from the documentary, so it’s quite clear that this is the primary source.

Here is my translation of what the Pope said in full context. In red, we can see the parts that were quoted.

“Once I was asked a question on a flight—it made me angry afterwards, it made me angry because of how the media reported it—about the family integration of people with homosexual orientation, and I said: homosexual people have a right be a part of a family, people with homosexual orientation have a right to be in a family and the parents have the right to recognize this son as homosexual, this daughter as homosexual. Nobody should be thrown out or be miserable because of it.

Another thing—I said—when we see some sign in children that are growing, and then you send them… I should have said to a ‘professional’, but I said ‘psychiatrist’. I wanted to say a professional, because sometimes there are signs in adolescence or pre-adolescence where they don’t know if it is a homosexual tendency or if the thymus gland atrophied with time—I don’t know, a thousand things, no? So, a professional. The headline of the newspaper: ‘The Pope sends homosexuals to the psychiatrist’. It is not true! They asked me a question and I repeated again: ‘They are sons of God, they have a right to a family, and so forth’. Another thing is… and I explained: I was wrong in using that word, but wanted to say this: ‘When you notice something str’… “Ah, it’s strange…”. No, it’s not strange. It’s something out of the ordinary. In other words, they took a small word to nullify the context. There, what I said was: ‘they have a right to a family’. And that does not mean approving homosexual acts, not in the least.”

I find it interesting how the Pope spoke here about the media taking his words out of context. I also find it interesting that the Pope specifically said that none of this means approving homosexual acts. This completely alters the implication of the quote that was presented to us. Of course, if you read the entire interview, you will see the Pope railing against abortion and saying, explicitly, “I am a conservative.”

What is even more interesting is that the quotes that appear in the clip from the documentary are scrambled. Additionally, there is absolutely no mention of homosexual unions in the interview—or at least in the official transcript. When I have time, I will watch the full interview, but there is no reference to it in the Vatican News transcript.

If we watch the clip from the documentary, we can see that during the part where the Pope speaks about civil unions, the background is the same as that of the 2019 interview. It appears that the part where Francis talks about approving civil unions must have been edited out of the final product. (Although, again, this is a provisional conclusion on my part, it may change after I watch the full interview).

How did Evgeny Afineevsky, the director of the documentary, get his hands on footage that was apparently edited out of the interview? CNA reports that “the documentarian … was given unprecedented access to Pope Francis until filming completed in June.” Perhaps this explains how he obtained this previously unaired snippet.

Still, the way the video preview rearranges the order in which his words actually appear in the interview should give us pause. Maybe after we see the interview in its full context, we will have a different impression of his words altogether, especially since the Holy Father uses the Spanish term “convivencia civil,” which can be either “civil union” or “civil coexistence.” If he means the latter, he may simply be referring to laws that protect the human rights of homosexuals. Note that he mentions that “this way, they can be legally covered.”

This is just my theory, but I think it’s quite possible that the snippet about civil unions came from a different part of the interview than the discussion of the family. Maybe Francis was discussing his political role in Argentina during an attempt to legalize civil marriage there. This is plausible, because in the interview they do discuss his time as an archbishop in Argentina. As Mike Lewis mentioned in his recent piece, papal biographer Austen Ivereigh wrote about how as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis opposed a same-sex marriage bill and proposed—as an alternative—a civil union law that would give LGBT couples some benefits (for example, hospital visits) without their partnership being legally considered a marriage. This could even be viewed as a compromise. It’s even possible that he simply saw it as a choice between a greater evil and a lesser evil at the time.

But this is still speculation. Without access to the full, unedited interview, it is impossible to know exactly what the Pope really meant. From what we already can determine from a comparison of the clip from the documentary and the long interview from 2019, it is clear that he has been quoted wildly out of context. Non-consecutive statements were cherry-picked and creatively stitched together, giving the impression that he  meant something he really didn’t. The part where he mentions that homosexuals have a “right to a family” is clearly spoken in the context of the marginalization of homossexual people within families, especially gay children. But the way it was presented, it suggested that he was speaking about same-sex partners having the right to form a family. Who knows if his statement about civil unions was also taken out of context?

While we wait for the full documentary and the full context of the quotes to come out, I advise serenity and prudence. Please don’t form rash judgments, and please don’t leap onto the bandwagon of controversies stirred up by the media. Withhold judgment until you have the full picture. We will only have the full picture when (and if) we can see the original unedited interview. That said, the fog seems to have already lifted a bit. Let’s hope that things will eventually clear up.

This article has been edited for clarity [ML 10/22/2020 1 PM Eastern]

Image: 2019 interview of Pope Francis with Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki

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Pedro Gabriel, MD, is a Catholic layman and physician, born and residing in Portugal. He is a medical oncologist, currently employed in a Portuguese public hospital. A published writer of Catholic novels with a Tolkienite flavor, he is also a parish reader and a former catechist. He seeks to better understand the relationship of God and Man by putting the lens on the frailty of the human condition, be it physical and spiritual. He also wishes to provide a fresh perspective of current Church and World affairs from the point of view of a small western European country, highly secularized but also highly Catholic by tradition.

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