In recent weeks, Pope Francis became a trending topic following the release of the documentary Francesco by Russian filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky.
The documentary includes a 20-second clip of the Pope saying that homosexuals “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.” (Read: The letter from Pope Francis that inspired a domestic violence victim to keep moving forward)
Rightly so, the Pope’s backing of civil unions has exploded in international media, and doubts began to arise over the origins of the interview. Some media outlets have even accused the Pope of deviating from Church doctrine, while others celebrated an alleged new open-door policy to gay couples.
Vatican Letter to Bishops
In response to the issue, the Vatican sent a letter to bishops’ conferences around the world to explain Pope Francis’ remarks on civil unions. The letter argued that the Pope’s words were taken out of context and that his position does not constitute a change in Church teaching on the issue of marriage.
To date, the Vatican has not issued any statement clarifying the incident or the pope’s remarks, making the letter to nuncios the first known response to the episode. (Read: These Instances Prove That Pope Francis Supports Equality)
Titled, “To help understand some of the expressions of the pope in the documentary Francesco,” the Vatican letter states that its intent is to offer “useful points of clarification” about the Pope’s words. It also insists that it was sent “per his instruction.”
Taken Out of Context
In the media fiasco that has been dubbed “Moviegate,” it was established that the Pope’s remarks were not made in a new interview given to Afineevsky for the documentary, as he previously claimed, but was actually from a 2019 interview with Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki.
The Vatican letter goes on to provide background on the incident and said that a year ago, Pope Francis was asked “two different questions at two different times that, in the aforementioned documentary, were edited and published as a single answer without proper contextualization, which has generated confusion.”
Moreover, in regard to the Pope’s statement that homosexuals have a right to be part of a family, the letter said that this was in reference “to the pastoral need that, within the family, a son or a daughter with a homosexual orientation should never be discriminated against.”
The Vatican letter cited Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ 2016 post-synodal exhortation, which said that “every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.” (Read: Cardinal: ‘We Must Return to the Eucharist as Soon as Possible’)
Families whose members include individuals with same-sex attraction, the paragraph continues, “should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”
Civil Union Remarks
The Vatican letter then went on to explain that the Pope’s remarks about civil cohabitation were made in response to a separate question about “a ten-year-old local law in Argentina on ‘marriage equality of same-sex couples’ and his opposition to them as the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aires in this regard.”
On this point, the Vatican letter stated that Pope Francis insisted in the interview that “it is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage,” adding that—in that in the same context—he had spoken about the rights of these people to have certain legal protection.” (Read: Three Instances That Prove Science and Faith Work Hand In Hand)
This, the Vatican letter said, is the context for the Pope’s statement in the documentary that “What we have to have is a civil union (convivencia civil) law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”
The Vatican’s letter to bishops closes insisting that given the background, “it is clear that Pope Francis was referring to certain provisions made by states, and certainly not to the doctrine of the Church, which he has reaffirmed numerous times over the years.”
According to reports, the Vatican letter was sent from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State to bishops’ conferences around the world through their ambassadors. However, while several bishops’ conferences have confirmed receiving it, the letter was revealed to be unsigned and not printed on the official letterhead. This, according to some officials in these bishops’ conferences, is quite strange for a document from the Secretariat of State.
As of writing, it is still unknown who ordered the letter to be written, who sent it, if Pope Francis is aware of it, and if, as the letter claims, it was in fact the Pope who asked that a clarification be made.