'A big, beautiful lesson': 'Francesco' director on Pope Francis' landmark remarks about LGBT civil unions

Bryan Alexander, USA TODAY
·3 min read

"Francesco," a documentary in which Pope Francis made landmark comments in support of LGBT civil unions, prompted international headlines with its Rome Film Festival debut last week.

Director Evgeny Afineevsky spoke about the pope's overall message of love in an interview that aired following the documentary's U.S. debut Sunday at the Savannah Film Festival.

"Pope Francis teaches us, 'Stop putting labels over the people. Stop putting frames over the people. We are all human beings, we are all children of God.' That’s a big, beautiful lesson we all need to learn," said Afineevsky, speaking from Rome in an interview recorded after the globally discussed premiere. "That's the most important lesson: It doesn’t matter what sexuality you have, what nationality you have, what religion you have. The most important aspect is to be a good human being."

Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions: What does this mean for LGBTQ rights in the US?

Pope Francis waves at the end of his Angelus noon prayer Sunday from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.
Pope Francis waves at the end of his Angelus noon prayer Sunday from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

The "Francesco" attention has lasered in on one Francis comment during the two-hour documentary. Afineevsky's film follows the globe-trotting pope before COVID-19 and discusses the issues close to his heart: climate change, refugees and social inequality.

At the one-hour, six-minute mark, Francis dropped the bombshell quote that he supported same-sex civil unions – or a "ley de convivencia civil," as he said in Spanish.

"What we have to create is a civil union law," Francis says of same-sex couples. "That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that."

The Associated Press reported that in the "firestorm" following the premiere, the pushback to the comments was swift from predictable corners. Cardinal Raymond Burke, Francis’ frequent nemesis on matters of doctrine, said the pope’s comments were devoid of any "magisterial weight." But in a statement to the AP, Burke expressed concern that such personal opinions coming from the pope "generate great bewilderment and cause confusion and error among Catholic faithful."

Christopher Lamb of Britain’s The Tablet magazine noted Friday that in some countries, the rights of gays are a life and death matter, and that Francis was merely positioning the church to defend LGBT Catholics from perhaps deadly discrimination.

"The pope is willing to ‘break a few plates’ to ensure he communicates this Gospel-based message of compassion," he tweeted.

Singer Elton John thanked Francis on Instagram, discussing how important his own "civil union and subsequent marriage" to partner David Furnish has been in his life.

"Giving your blessing to same sex civil unions is a major step towards equality, and a foundation for which countless others can enjoy the same protections and happiness," John wrote to Francis in the post. "God bless you."

In further controversy around the "Francesco" documentary, AP reported that Francis’ media advisers confirmed the filmed comments actually came from a 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa.

Televisa confirmed the origin of the quotes, but said the comments never aired. AP quoted a source who said the Vatican, which used its own cameras to shoot the Francis interview and provided raw footage to Televisa afterward, had deleted the civil union quote in question.

Afineevsky did not address the controversy around Francis' comments the interview aired Sunday, but seemed to allude it when saying of the documentary, "I guess every person finds something that bothers him or (that is) close to his heart, something that can change his life."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pope in an interview included in the feature-length documentary 'Francesco.'
Pope Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pope in an interview included in the feature-length documentary 'Francesco.'

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pope Francis backs LGBT civil unions: What 'Francesco' says about love