Accra, Nov. 5, (dpa/GNA) – Pope Francis’ remarks on gay unions were taken out of context and have not changed church doctrine on the issue, according to an explanatory note issued by the Vatican’s central office.
The note by the Secretariat of State was sent to Vatican ambassadors around the world with the instruction to pass it on to local bishops for « an appropriate understanding of the Holy Father’s words. »
On Thursday, dpa saw a copy sent to the head of the German Bishops Conference, Georg Baetzing, dated November 2, and signed by the apostolic nuncio, or Vatican ambassador, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic.
The document confirms suspicions that remarks Francis makes in « Francesco, » a documentary that premiered at the Rome Film Fest on October 21, originate from a 2019 TV interview.
The film caused a sensation with a clip in which Francis says: « Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that. »
The Vatican letter points out that the quote comes from two separate answers, which Russian film-maker Evgeny Afineevsky edited together, omitting some key context.
It explains that Francis was talking about gay people not being rejected by their parents, rather – as the film suggests – the right of gay people to raise children of their own.
The last part of the quote is said to refer to Francis’ pre-pope days in Argentina, when he opposed a gay marriage bill but backed giving legal recognition to same-sex partnerships.
The letter concludes that the pope « 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. »
Nevertheless, several questions remain open.
It is unclear why the Vatican did not comment earlier about a high-profile controversy which has excited Catholic progressives as much as it has angered conservative ones.
On October 22, a day after his film premiered and made world headlines, the Vatican hosted an award ceremony for Afineevsky, despite the apparent misrepresentation of the pope’s remarks.
In the following days and weeks, the Vatican press office stonewalled requests for comment, and never publicized the letter sent to episcopal conferences around the world.
The Vatican has also stayed silent on why Francis’ gay union comments, made to Mexican TV Televisa in 2019, were not included in the broadcast version of that interview.
Afineevsky is believed to have retrieved the uncut version after enjoying free access to the Vatican’s media archives to make his documentary.
Reacting to the letter, vicar general of the Essen diocese Klaus Pfeffer told dpa the Vatican had displayed « a disastrous form of communication. »
« The Pope speaks in a film that was apparently authorized by the Vatican. This then triggers corresponding reactions from the public, and then the Vatican feels called to interpret the statements of the Pope, in other words: to weaken them. »
« That throws a very bad light on the Vatican and damages the Pope, » he added.