ROME—As the repercussions of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking endorsement of same-sex unions, in which he called for a “civil union law,” continue to rattle the church—especially its conservative corners—it has emerged that the Vatican originally censored the comments after the pope made them back in 2019.
Earlier this week, filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky debuted his documentary Francesco on the life of the pope at the Rome Film Festival. The film carries a lengthy interview with Francis during which he criticizes President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration practices as “cruelty of the highest form” and, in what is meant to seem like the same interview, calls for a civil union law on camera, adding, “That way they are legally covered.”
But Mexican broadcaster Televisa confirmed to the Associated Press late Thursday that the comments were actually part of an interview they did with Francis in 2019, and that the comments on same-sex unions had been “cut by the Vatican,” which reserves the final say over any interview in exchange for access to the pontiff.
The Vatican only consents to televised interviews with journalists if their crew films and then distributes the edited version to the journalist who conducted the interview, allowing them full control over what is broadcast about the pope. It is unclear if the pope himself has any say in what is distributed or if that is left to his public affairs team who would undoubtedly understand the weight of such comments given the conservative backlash against this pontiff.
The Televisa journalist who conducted the interview told the Associated Press that the emphasis of their program was on clerical sexual abuse and, as such, the comments on same-sex unions and gay marriage (which the pope does not endorse), were not relevant to their topic. They also said that because Francis had made similar comments in the past, they didn’t deem it newsworthy.
The Vatican declined to comment on Friday when asked whether they had released the previously censored clip deliberately.
Afineevsky was given access to both the pope and the media archives, which are notoriously redacted. A Vatican expert familiar with the inner workings of the Vatican media arm told The Daily Beast that there is nothing in the archives that “isn’t approved” or “can’t be found,” suggesting the Vatican may have wanted the previously censored footage to be released. Afineevsky declines to comment.
The pope’s comments sparked headlines around the world. They were welcomed by some and scorned by others. “There are a lot of bishops around the world, in the United States and Poland and other places, who have been saying that same-sex civil unions are a threat to traditional marriage and have been really, you know, campaigning against them,” Father James Martin, editor at large of America Media, told The Current. “And I think this is going to make them think twice before they talk about those things now, knowing how the pope feels.”
The Catholic Church’s stance on LGBT issues has been dire for decades, with a long history of senior figures in the church making inflammatory and discriminatory remarks. At the beginning of the AIDS crisis, the church disregarded medical advice during an epidemic and refused to bend the rules on condom use. Homophobia has been very much a standard line in the church, all against a backdrop of homosexuality within the priesthood itself. It was Francis who, just after he was elected, admitted, “Yes, there is a gay mafia in the church heirarchy" amid rumors that his predecessor Benedict XVI resigned over the gay lobby’s pressure.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who is no fan of Francis, issued a scathing statement Thursday on the pope’s endorsement. He is of the mind that the Catholic church should stick with its long-time mantra, that homosexual people are "intrinsically disordered," which was the party line before Francis was elected in 2013.
In his statement, Burke said the pope, through his comments, has caused great bewilderment and confusion and error among Catholic faithful. “It is a source of deepest sadness and pressing pastoral concern that the private opinions reported with so much emphasis by the press and attributed to Pope Francis do not correspond to the constant teaching of the Church,” Burke wrote in part. “Equally sad and concerning is the turmoil, confusion, and error they cause among the Catholic faithful, as is the scandal they cause, in general, by giving the totally false impression that the Catholic Church has had a change of course, that is, has changed its perennial teaching regarding such fundamental and critical questions.”
The pope has been drawn into political disputes before, often at the hands of those with a hidden agenda, as when he visited the U.S. in 2015 and was essentially set up to shake hands with Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who had become a conservative hero for defying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Similarily, the release of his liberal comments on same-sex unions, especially after they had been scrubbed from previous publication by someone who thought them unwise to release, surely serve to rattle the conservative sector of the Church at least as much as they do to show the pope’s willingness to reach out to gay Catholics.