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Pope Francis supports same-sex civil partnerships, in departure from Vatican teaching

In the new documentary Francesco, Pope Francis calls for same-sex civil unions, marking a dramatic shift from Vatican teaching

POPE Francis, making a remarkable departure from traditional Catholic teaching and official Vatican doctrine, has backed civil unions for same-sex couples.

Speaking in a documentary about his life and ministry which premiered in Rome yesterday, the Pope said: "Homosexuals have a right to be part of the family. They're children of God and have a right to a family.

"Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.

"What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

He added, apparently referring to his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires: "I stood up for that."

The remarks were reported by the Catholic News Agency, which had access to the film that was shown as part of the Rome Film Festival and made with the Pope's cooperation.

The documentary, called Francesco, has been made by Oscar-nominated film-maker Evgeny Afineevsky. It is due to be screened in North America on Sunday.

As well as interviews with Pope Francis, the film features contributions from Vatican figures including Pope Benedict XVI as well as Francis's family.

Francesco focuses on the Pope's pastoral ministry, going back to his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.

In 2010, he was one of the strongest opponents of same-sex marriage in Argentina.

He has also written of his concern that children could be affected where same-sex couples have adoption rights: "Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity."

A report by Vatican News, the Holy See's official information service, last night made no mention of the Pope's controversial remarks.

Francesco is due to receive an Italian film industry award, known as a Kineo, in a ceremony in the Vatican Gardens today.

Vatican News noted that the 'Kineo Movie for Humanity' honour will be presented by Rosetta Sannelli, the creator of the award, who said the documentary was of historic value.

"Every one of Pope Francis's journeys to various parts of the world is documented in Afineevsky's work through images and news footage, and reveals an authentic glimpse into the events of our time," she said.

Some have suggested that the Pope's support of civil partnerships is simply a compromise position - accepting the reality of same-sex unions need not mean that Catholic teaching on marriage has to change, goes this argument.

However, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said in 2003 - when it was led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and directed by Pope John Paul II - that "respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions".

With his documentary remarks, Pope Francis has given the Vatican a huge problem in terms of explaining the Catholic Church's view on same-sex civil partnerships.

It will also give further fuel to his opponents, who are long suspicious of what they regard as the Pope's liberal views.

The current controversy surrounding Cardinal George Pell and Cardinal Angelo Becciu can also be seen, at least in part, in the context of rival Vatican factions.

But where that now centres on financial, temporal matters, Pope Francis's same-sex civil partnership comments introduce a new doctrinal - spritual, even - element to the rivalries.

Perhaps most intriguingly of all, it also raises the thorny question of whether a Pope can himself be in error of Vatican teaching.

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