In the documentary Francesco, which premiered yesterday at the Rome Film Festival, Francis became the first pope to endorse the unions. Civil unions provide couples some of the same legal advantages of marriage but fall short of a sacramental union sanctified by the church.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis said. “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”
Although far short of an endorsement for gay marriage, members and supporters of Dallas’ LGBTQ+ community say the pope’s comments are a step in the right direction.
“It helps alleviate some of the feelings of guilt that many gay people grow up with, not just in the Catholic church, but in the Southern Baptist religion as well,” said Jay Narey, president emeritus of Texas Stonewall Democrats.
Francis endorsed same-sex civil unions when serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, but, until now, never as pope. In Francesco, Francis also discusses other subjects he is passionate about, like the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, according to The Associated Press. The pope's comments are actually from a 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa but aired for the first time in the documentary.
“Even for those of us who are Christian, but not Catholic, people pay attention to the pope and they pay attention to his words.” – Eric Folkerth, Methodist minister
Eric Folkerth, a Methodist minister in Dallas, said the Catholic church has lagged behind even in encouraging civil rights for same-sex couples, but the pope’s recent comments show astounding leadership that will resonate throughout the religious community.
“Even for those of us who are Christian, but not Catholic, people pay attention to the pope and they pay attention to his words,” Folkerth said.
Folkerth said he has performed same-sex weddings, but his own denomination struggles with whether or not to allow same-sex marriages or unions in their churches.
The Catholic Diocese of Dallas did not respond to the Observer for comment but told NBC Forth Worth that they are waiting for a statement on the documentary from the Vatican.
In a statement to NBC, the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth said that in the mind of Christ, marriage is a bond between a man and a woman and that "faithful Catholics must insist that the Church’s teaching on marriage has not changed and cannot change."
While Francis is a Jesuit and has been progressive on social issues, he has yet to endorse church-sanctioned same-sex marriage. Narey said he believes the Catholic church will reach this point someday, but it will take time.
“The Catholic church doesn't move in years, it moves in centuries,” Narey said. “I think all change in an institution this old is going to be incremental in nature.”