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How Pope Francis is ‘upending’ Catholic Church culture over same-sex unions

In a new documentary, Pope Francis makes remarks that represent an increased level of support for same-sex unions and legal protections. The statements seem to be at odds with official teachings of the Catholic Church, whose doctrine still contends that marriage is between a man and a woman. William Brangham reports and talks to Fordham University’s David Gibson, who has long covered the Vatican.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we reported, Pope Francis made remarks that went further than he has before as pope in support of same-sex unions and legal protections.

    William Brangham looks at the latest development and whether it signals a broader shift within the Vatican.

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    The pope in the past has talked before about the need for the Catholic Church to show greater love and understanding and outreach to LGBTQ communities. He's even spoken before about supporting same-sex unions.

    But these latest comments are being seen by many as more explicit and categorical.

    In this documentary, the pope said — quote — "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way," he said, "they are legally covered. They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it."

    David Gibson is a scholar, former journalist and documentary filmmaker who has long covered the Vatican. He's now the director of the Center on Religion and Culture at Fordham University.

    David Gibson, great to have you on the "NewsHour."

    As I mentioned, this is part of an evolution in the pope's comments about same-sex couples. How significant to you is what he has said?

  • David Gibson:

    This is very significant, really, in terms of tone and content.

    Look, he's calling for an actual civil union law. He's calling for the church to welcome these people, welcome gay people in the secular sphere. And that's something that goes against the policy of the Catholic Church itself. In 2003, they said Catholics cannot support civil unions.

    Again, this is different. He's not calling for gay marriage in the church. But the church has said you can't support civil unions. So, he's upending that.

    And he's also undercutting, I think, cultural warriors in places like the United States, who have long thought against anything resembling gay marriage. It's also a big change in tone. And that's really what he's after here. He does not like the culture wars. He wants the church to be open and accepting.

  • William Brangham:

    The pope is being criticized by some within the church, who point out, as you are, that this clearly contradicts official church policy.

    So, how much does tone eventually change doctrine, or does it?

  • David Gibson:

    Well, he's also asserted that he's not changing doctrine. This has nothing to do with gay marriage. This has nothing to do with even blessing same-sex couples. This is simply a way to welcome them in — civilly and in the secular world. And it's putting out the welcome mat to gay people.

    Again, he says they should not be made miserable, there should be no sort of discrimination against them. But he is upending that church policy that said Catholics have to be against civil unions.

  • William Brangham:

    And this is also clearly more in line with American public opinion, but much less so, I guess, within the broader Catholic world.

    I wonder how much of an impact you think this might have on nations where there is much more overt intolerance for gay communities.

  • David Gibson:

    Yes, William, we see everything so often through our own lens here in the United States and our culture war lens.

    But this is a question of life and death in many parts of the world in the Southern Hemisphere, especially where the Christian and the Catholic Church is growing. There are laws that criminalize homosexuality and homosexual actions.

    For the pope to come out and put the church firmly against the criminalization, essentially, of homosexuality is really a powerful statement in the rest of the world, again, that's really a matter of life and death for gay and lesbian people.

  • William Brangham:

    All right, David Gibson of Fordham University, thank you very, very much.

  • David Gibson:

    Thank you.

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