VATICAN CITY — Questions swirled Thursday about the origins of Pope Francis’ bombshell comments endorsing same-sex civil unions, with all evidence suggesting he made them in a 2019 interview that was never broadcast in its entirety.
The Vatican refused to comment on whether it cut the remarks from its own broadcast or if the Mexican broadcaster that conducted the interview did. And it didn’t respond to questions about why it allowed the comments to be aired now in the documentary “Francesco,” which premiered Wednesday.
In the movie, which was shown at the Rome Film Festival, Francis said gay people have the right to be in a family since they are “children of God.”
“You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this,” the pope said. “What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
Those comments caused a firestorm, thrilling progressives and alarming conservatives, given official Vatican teaching prohibits any such endorsement of homosexual unions.
While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favor of legal protections for civil unions as pope, and no pontiff before him had, either.
One of Francis’ top communications advisers, the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, insisted the pope’s comments were old news, saying they were made during a May 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa.
“There’s nothing new because it’s a part of that interview,” Spadaro told The Associated Press as he exited the premiere. “It seems strange that you don’t remember.”
But Televisa didn’t air those comments when it broadcast the interview — nor did the Vatican when it put out its recordings of it. The broadcaster has not commented on the intrigue.
The Vatican frequently edits the pope in official transcripts and videos, especially when he speaks on sensitive issues. Yet some version of the footage was apparently available in the Vatican archives, which were opened to filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky.
Televisa has not confirmed that the comments were made during its interview, but the scene of the documentary is identical to the Televisa interview, including the yellow background, a chair in the corner and slightly off-center placement of the chain of Francis’ pectoral cross.
The official 2019 Vatican News transcript of that interview, as well as the official Vatican edit, contains no such comment on the need for legal protections for civil unions. The official edit does include his comments on the need for gay people to feel they are part of a family, as he has said previously.
Further muddying the waters is the fact that Afineevsky, when pressed by reporters late Wednesday, said the pope made the comments to him directly, through a translator, but declined to say when.
When The Associated Press interviewed Afineevsky on Oct. 14, the director was asked if he realized at the time that Francis’ comments were going to grab headlines.
Afineevsky dodged the question about the origin of the quote and seemed to not appreciate its significance. But he said that he hoped journalists would take more away from the film.