I wish to make some updates to my previous piece on the subject, in light of recent controversies and findings.
1) It seems like the tweet I used containing the snippet from the documentary has been removed. A new one can be seen here:
Here is Pope Francis endorsing homosexual civil unions, in the new documentary 'Francesco' by Evgeny Afineevsky pic.twitter.com/Ptguo08iMX
— Catholic Sat (@CatholicSat) October 21, 2020
Also the YouTube video containing the full interview with the Pope does not seem to be available in the US anymore (even if it continues to be available in Portugal, Canada, and probably other countries).
2) Catholic News Agency has since published other articles, that validate many of the points made at Where Peter Is. See here:
“At the same time, a CNA analysis of the interview’s transcript shows that other papal comments on homosexuality featured in “Francesco” were compiled by heavy editing of the 2019 interview’s video footage.” (Source)
“According to the Times, two other people close to the company, who asked not to be identified, said that the interview was filmed with Vatican cameras and the Vatican had control over the footage. The two sources also said that Francis’ comments on same-sex unions were cut from the version of the interview footage Televisa received from the Vatican.
The interview Pope Francis gave to Televisa appeared to have been shot in the same place, with the same lighting and the same appearance as the pope’s comments on civil unions, which drew questions this week about the statement’s origin, with conflicting reports coming from different sources.
Afineevsky, who said he was given access to Vatican archival video footage during the documentary’s years-long production, told CNA and other journalists on Wednesday that Pope Francis’ comment in support of legalizing same sex civil unions was made during an interview the director himself conducted with Pope Francis. Televisa’s statement and analysis of the footage contrast that account” (Source).
3) After establishing without a doubt that Francis’s statements were heavily edited, the discussion moved on to whether the Spanish “leyes de convivencia civil” refers to “civil unions” or “social coexistence” (the latter meaning, laws protecting societal rights of LGBTQ people, but not including civil unions or same-sex marriage).
Some Spanish speakers in social media seem to strongly believe that “convivencia civil” simly means civil coexistence. One of these, whose video has gone viral, is Fr. Agustino Torres.
On the other hand, Catholic News Agency reported on the response of Archbishop Victor Fernández, an Argentine bishop who is very close to Francis. However, contrary to CNA’s headline, the article does not quote the bishop saying Francis was “not mistranslated.” In fact, he does not address the translation at all, but seems to take for granted that Francis was speaking about civil unions. It is not clear that he is even aware of the “civil unions” vs. “social coexistence” debate.
Archbishop Fernández simply reiterates Pope Francis’s well-known views on homosexual civil unions when he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires (here is a direct link to the article). This is a matter of public record. Mike Lewis’ article places the controversy in its historical context, when civil unions were presented as a compromise solution to avoid the legalization of homosexual marriage. In fact, it appears that Fernández’s intention is to dissipate confusion that may arise regarding the differences between “civil unions” and “marriage.” There is no evidence that he was concerned about a mistranslation at all. It is in this context that he says that “laws of civil union” are also called laws of “convivencia civil.”
I would also like to emphasize that the archbishop explicitly mentions that these same-sex civil unions do not necessarily a romantic or sexual partnership.
Furthermore, it is important to note that, even if Archbishop Fernández’s contributions to this debate are extremely valuable as a Spanish-speaker, an Argentine, and someone who is knowledgeable of the pope’s thought, I am not aware that he had access to the full context of the controversial quote. Also, he is not acting as an official Vatican spokesperson.
Since yesterday, the bishop’s post appears to have been taken down from Facebook. The reasons for the removal are unknown at present. A screenshot of it can still be seen here.
At this moment, I personally withhold my judgment about whether Francis meant “civil unions” or “social coexistence” until I see the quote in its full context, or until the Vatican officially clarifies the pope’s meaning. Context can significantly alter the meaning of a statement: just remember how the quotes seemed to indicate that Francis favored civil unions because homosexuals have a right to a family. Later it was shown that the video was doctored, and the meaning was altered..
4) Some of our readers point out that there is a skip in the interview between 1:00:06 and 1:00:07. This comes immediately after the Pope says (my translation):
“The grace of the Holy Spirit certainly exists. I always defended the doctrine. It is curious, in the law of homosexual marriage… it is an incongruence to talk about homosexual marriage”
The frame at 1:00:06, just before the cut, seems to match the beginning of the clip from the documentary, where the Pope says: “What we have to create is a law of ‘convivencia civil.’ That way they are legally covered.”
If this is true, the “civil unions” interpretation is more plausible. However, I also note that the frame at 1:00:07 does not match the end of the documentary clip. So, even if this is true, then Francis likely gave further clarification on what he meant, which remains unaired and unknown.
CNA reported that the Pope also said: “I stood up for that” after speaking about laws of “convivencia social.” This may explain the missing frames. Interestingly, the “I stood up for that” bit does not appear in the documentary clip that was shared on social media. Even in CNA’s reporting, there seems to be a break between the part where Francis talks about the laws and his support for them. Is there anymore context in between or after?
Of course, this assumes that the excised clip comes from that point in the interview. It also assumes that the “I stood up for that” quote comes afterwards. It assumes there is no more context to it than the one we know from the documentary. Only after having access to an unedited version of the interview would we be able to know if these assumptions are correct.
5) Finally, one piece of the puzzle that remains unanswered is the question why the portion of the interview where Francis talks about “convivencia civil” laws was removed. We know this removal was done by the Vatican, not Televisa. But was this willed by the Pope, or even approved by him? Was he consulted about it? The answer to this question can significantly alter our perception of what Francis’s intentions are. A recent America Magazine article states that: “on this occasion as on other similar occasions, and as a matter of general principle, the Vatican did not edit or remove any part of what Francis said in the interview without his prior agreement.”
Regardless, we do know one thing is true. The original claim that Francis was making a “shift in the Vatican’s stance” does not hold up to scrutiny. The Holy See does not change its stances (doctrinal or not) based on a private interview with the Pope, deleting the relevant part, and then waiting over a year until it is unearthed in the archives by a documentary filmmaker. This aspect of the story has been blown out of proportion relative to the significance of these two isolated sentences spoken by the Pope. Unfortunately, the secular media has already taken this opportunity to share misinformation about Francis, while panic and controversy has been spread by some Catholic media outlets. This only reaffirms the importance for Catholics to be discerning and not be too quick to jump on the bandwagon of any frenzied controversy involving the Holy Father.
Image: 2019 interview of Pope Francis with Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki
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.