For the first time as pope, Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions while being interviewed for Francesco's feature-length documentary, which premiered at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday.
The papal thumbs-up came in the middle of the film that delves into the issues that most concern Francis, including the environment, poverty, migration, inequality of race and income, and the people most affected by discrimination.
"The right to be in a family is for homosexual people. They are God's children," Francis said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film.
"What we have to have is the law of civil union; they're legally covered that way."
While serving as Buenos Aires Archbishop, as an alternative to same-sex marriages, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples. He had never, however, publicly come out in favor of civil unions as pope.
"The Jesuit priest, Rev. James Martin, who has been at the forefront of building bridges with gays in the church, praised the comments of the pope as" a major step forward in supporting LGBT people in the church.
Martin said in a statement, "Speaking positively about civil unions from the Pope also sends a strong message to places where the church has opposed such laws."
Juan Carlos Cruz, the Chilean survivor of clergy sexual abuse whom Francis originally discredited during a visit to Chile in 2018, is one of the main characters in the documentary.
Cruz, who is gay, said that Francis assured him that God had made Cruz gay during his first meeting with the pope in May 2018. Throughout the film, Cruz tells his own story in snippets, chronicling both the evolution of Francis to understand sexual abuse and to document the views of the pope on gay people.
The cardinals, the Vatican television archives, and the pope himself had remarkable access to Director Evgeny Afineevsky. He said that through persistence, and deliveries of Argentine mate tea and Alfajores cookies that he got to the Pope through some well-connected Argentines in Rome, he negotiated his way in.
'Listen, the only way to accomplish something when you're in the Vatican is to break the rule and then say,' I'm sorry, "Afineevsky said in a pre-premiere interview.
Beginning in early 2018, the director operated official and unofficial channels and ended up so close to Francis by the end of the project that he showed the film on his iPad to the pope in August. The two recently exchanged greetings for Yom Kippur; Afineevsky is a Jew born in Russia who lives in Los Angeles.
But "Francesco" is about the pope more than a biopic.
In the 2018 film 'Pope Francis: A Man of His Word,' which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, Wim Wenders did that. Francesco "is more of a visual survey of the crises and tragedies of the world, with the pope's audio providing possible ways of solving them."
Afineevsky traveled the world to film it: the settings include Cox's Bazaar in Bangladesh, where the Rohingya of Myanmar sought refuge; the border between the United States and Mexico; and Francis' native Argentina.
Vatican communications director Paolo Ruffini, who was one of Afineevsky 's closest Vatican-based collaborators on the film, said, "The film tells the story of the pope by reversing the cameras."
When Afineevsky first approached him with the idea of a documentary, Ruffini said that he was trying to tamp down his hopes of interviewing the pope.
He said, "I told him it wasn't going to be easy."
But he was given some advice by Ruffini: names of people who had been affected by the pope, even after a brief meeting. They were discovered by Afineevsky: the refugees with whom Francis met on some of his foreign trips, the prisoners he blessed, and some of the gays he ministered to.
I told him that many of those encounters were certainly filmed by Vatican cameras and that he was going to find a true gold mine of stories telling a story there, "said Ruffini." "Through the eyes of all and not just his own, he could tell the story of the Pope."