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And What If the Story of the Pope Embracing Gay Couples Was Just a Hoax?

Since the documentary was shown at the Festa di Roma, Pope Francis’ words on civil unions have gone viral. But watching the images, something doesn’t fit

Pope Francis in a scene from the documentary.

There are doubts about a new documentary in which it seems that Pope Francis approves civil unions between persons of the same sex regarding what the Pope really said and how he said it. It also appears that the video in question was stolen from an interview given to Chilean television, Televisa, and skillfully manipulated to modify what Francis had said. Furthermore, the Pope had already spoken regarding civil unions several years ago, making the same comment on different occasions

In a documentary by Russian born Israeli-American director, Evgeny Afineevsky, titled “Francesco” and shown on October 21st at the Festa di Roma film festival, the pope says that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws.

In the documentary, framed in a close up, 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 have endeavored for that.”

The pope seemed to be relating to the time when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires and opposed legislation to approve same-sex marriages but supported some kind of legal protection for the rights of gay couples.

International media ran front page stories about an opening of the pope regarding gay marriages with comments from Catholic Church authorities, Vatican experts and members of the LGBT+ community, all of whom expressed their opinions in favor of, or against, the pope’s alleged announcement.

In reality, Francis did not say the last three sentences as part of the same paragraph mentioning homosexuals and the family, and the context in which he used these words is not certain.

In fact, a careful examination of this segment of Afineevsky’s documentary reveals that these images have been “stolen” from a long (approximately one hour and 17 minutes) interview granted by the pope to Valentina Alazraki, the Rome correspondent of Chilean television network, Televisa, that aired (and is available on YouTube) in May 2019, of which a complete transcript is available on the Vatican’s website. Furthermore, it is evident that two separate segments from Alazraki’s original interview have been edited together in order to make it seem that the pope has made a statement that indeed he never made in reality.

The interview by Valentina Alazraki, who’d already interviewed the pope a few years earlier, covered a series of important topics such as feminicides, migrations and Trump’s border wall between Mexico and the United States, China, drug trafficking, and some notorious cases of child abuse by high-ranking members of the clergy.

In the transcript (at approximately 56 minutes) of the interview, where the discussion regards the role of a homosexual child in a heterosexual family, it says:

Alazraki:Maybe there’s another important topic that we should clarify. It concerns your relations with people living in situations that before were referred to as ‘irregular,’ let’s say. I’ll make an example. When you encountered in Santa Marta a Spanish transsexual with his partner and, unambiguously, these people exited Santa Marta saying that you had embraced them, that you blessed them, that you told them that God loved them. Then, a divorced Argentinian woman called you on the phone and said: ‘The Pope told me that everything is all right and that I can partake of Communion.’ And priests pull their hair and say: ‘What shall we do now?’ because the doctrine hasn’t changed. How do you handle this situation?”

Pope F.: “Let’s not forget that sometimes, overcome by the joy of having met the pope in person, people say more than he did.”

Alazraki: “That’s a risk you run.”

Pope F.: “Sure there’s that risk. But they are all God’s children, we are all God’s children. All of us. And I can’t discard anyone. I have to be careful with someone who plays dirty, I have to be careful with someone who wants to entrap me. But I can’t discard anyone. I can’t even tell someone that their conduct meet the terms set by the Church, I can’t do that. But I must tell them the truth: “You are a child of God and God loves you as you are, now handle with this situation with God.”  Io don’t have the right to tell anyone that they aren’t a child of God because it wouldn’t be true. And I can’t tell someone that God doesn’t love them because God loves everyone, he even loved Judas. Obviously, these are extreme cases. I don’t remember exactly what I told that woman but I must have said: “Look, in Amoris laetitia you’ll find what you need to do, speak with a priest, and with him look for…”

Alazraki: “A path…”

Pope F.:  “A path, I indicate a path. But I’m very careful with regards to saying “You can or can’t partake Communion,” twelve thousand kilometers away from that person, it would be irresponsible. And it would constitute an instance of dealing with a particular case, can I or can’t I, and I don’t accept that. It’s part of a process of integration into the Church. If we thought that all those people who are in irregular situations… let’s not do that, I don’t like it”. 

Alazraki: “Yes, it’s a word that you detest, I don’t like it either, to be clear.”

Pope F.: “If we accepted that they are children of God, things could change sufficiently. They asked me a question during the flight – afterwards I was angry, I was angry because a newspaper reported it – about the family integration of persons with a homosexual orientation. I said: homosexual persons have a right to remain in the family and parents have the right to recognize that son, that daughter as homosexuals, one cannot expel anyone from the family or make their life impossible. I also said: when one sees some sign in children that are growing one must send them, I should have said to a professional, instead I said psychiatrist. The headline of that paper was: “The Pope sends homosexuals to the psychiatrist.” That’s not true! Another time the asked me the same question and I repeated: they are children of God, they have the right to have a family, and that was all. And I explained: if used that word by mistake but I meant to say this. When you notice something strange, no not strange, out of the ordinary, don’t use that word to erase the context. What it means is: he/she has a right to family. And this signify an approval of homosexual acts, to the contrary.”

Alazraki: “You know what happens, sometimes you say something out of context, that’s also a bad habit of the press. When, during you first trip, you said that famous phrase: Who am I to judge,” you had said before “We are mindful of the teachings of catechism.” What happens is that no one remembers this first part, they only remember: “Who am I to judge?” So, this raised many expectations in the global homosexual community because they thought you would have moved forward.”

Pope F.:  “Yes, I made statements like this one about the family to move forward. The doctrine is the same, that regarding divorced couples has been re-adapted, in line though with Amoris laetitia, in the eighth chapter, which is based on the doctrine of Saint Thomas, not case histories.”

Alazraki: “This is the problem that occurs sometimes.”

Pope F.: “I understand that, but not when they take a word out of context as happened with ‘psychiatrist’, you don’t have the right to do that. And, it’s strange, I was told that it was a nonbeliever who defended me. He said something no one else said, that they words ‘He should see a psychiatrist’ was a lapsus linguae.”

Alazraki:Pope Francis, there is something on my mind. Some people who knew you when you lived in Argentina say you were a conservative, if we want to use categories with regards to doctrine.” 

Pope F.: “I am a conservative.”

Alazraki:  “You were involved in a battle about weddings between same sex persons in Argentina. And the, they say, after you came here, you were elected Pope and now you seem more liberal that you were in Argentina. Do you recognize yourself in this description by some people who knew you before, or has the grace of the Holy Spirit that transformed you?” [Laughs]

Pope F.: “The grace of the Holy Spirit exists, certainly. I have always defended doctrine. And it is curious, with regards to homosexual marriage… it is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage.”

Alazraki: “So, it’s not true that first you were one thing and now another.”

Pope F.: “No, first I was one thing and now I’m another. It’s true.”

Alazraki: “Yes, because now you are the Pope.”

Pope F.: “No, because I can agree that I’ve grown a bit, that I may be more saintly. One changes in life. That I’ve expanded my criteria, that may be, that being aware of the world’s problems I’ve acquired a deeper knowledge of certain things than I had before. No, I believe that I’ve changed in that sense, yes. But a conservative… I am both things.”

Pope Francis. (Illustration Antonella Martino)

In the video of the interview, there are no cuts in this segment and there is no trace of the paragraph contained in the documentary with the following the sentences spoken by Pope Francis: “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I have endeavored for that.”

Actually, the video with the above mentioned paragraph is nowhere to be found in Alazraki’s interview nor is there any trace of it in the transcript.

It’s worth noting that in that point of the interview for Televisa the pope was urging journalists not to use words out of context.

That said, it is important to repeat that in the original interview the pope said:

Homosexual persons have a right to remain in the family and parents have the right to recognize that son, that daughter as homosexuals, one cannot expel anyone from the family or make their life impossible.”

At this exact point in Afineevsky’s documentary, there is an insert with the edit covered by video of priests praying in Santa Marta, of the key paragraph: “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I have endeavored for that.”

It is highly likely that this insert containing the missing paragraph from Alazraki’s interview was cut at the end of the paragraph where the pope says: “I have always defended doctrine. And it is curious, with regards to homosexual marriage… it is an incongruity to speak of homosexual marriage.” As a matter of fact, at this point in the interview there is a cut to video shot by the second camera showing the Mexican journalist as she asks the pope a question. In all likelihood the video clip used in the documentary “Francesco” was cut at this point – aside from the visible edit to the second camera, it is a logical follow up to the previous sentences.

It isn’t clear why that paragraph is missing in the video and the transcript of Alazraki’s interview, nor do we know decided to cut it and why; neither is it known how Afineevsky obtained the videoclip. It was impossible to obtain a comment from Alazraki. Afineevsky or the Vatican.

According to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer, director Evgeny Afineevsky, who in 2019 had produced a full-length film about the inclusion of homosexuals in a Jewish family, after the screening of “Francis” in Rome said he was surprised that the Pope’s statements had created such an uproar. Afineevsky said he was convinced that the pope didn’t intend to announce a change in doctrine but was stating his belief that homosexuals should enjoy the same rights as heterosexuals.

Aside from the considerations regarding the documentary, it is worth underlining that, with regards to civil unions, Pope Francis didn’t say anything new.

As a matter of fact, the pope had already addressed the issue of civil unions in 2014, when he’d been interviewed by Ferruccio De Bortoli for the Corriere della Sera. De Bortoli had asked the following question: “Many countries have legalized civil unions. Is this a path that the Church can understand? And, if so, how?”

Francis had answered: “A marriage is between a man and a woman. Secular States want to justify civil unions to regulate different instances of cohabitation, taking into account the need to regulate economic issues between people, or ensuring health assistance. We’re dealing with different types of cohabitation, that I wouldn’t be able to classify. One would need to examine the specific cases and account for all the different occurrences. “

There can be no doubt that Pope Francis considers a marriage between a man and a woman something completely different from a civil union between homosexuals.

In 2017, interviewed by French journalist Dominique Walton for the book Politics and Society, the pope had said: “Let’s call things with their proper names. A marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This is the exact definition. Let us call a union between persons of the same sex a civil union.”

The Archbishop of La Plata, Argentina, Victor Manuel Fernández, a respected theologian, considered a close associate of Pope Francis, attempted to put an end to all discussions about what the pope had said. Fernández confirmed that the words “Convivencia civil” used by Francis in his interview with Alazraki can correctly be translated as “civil unions,” and he added that the pope had acknowleged the possibility of civil unions ever since he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. With a post on Twitter, the bishops conference of Argentina confirmed Fernández’s considerations.

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