Pope Francis has signalled that he could see the Catholic church tolerating some forms of same-sex civil unions -- though not marriage -- when it comes to situations such as medical care and property for gay couples.
In an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the pope said that "matrimony is between a man and a woman," but moves to "regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care," according to a translation by Catholic News Service.
"It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety," Francis said.
While the remarks were far from endorsing same-sex marriage, something Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI have spoken out against, they represent the latest in what many Catholics and church observers have read as a more gay-friendly tone of the church under the pope, who was elected nearly a year ago.
In an interview over the summer, the pope famously said, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis' call for the church to focus more broadly on positive messages about Jesus Christ and love as opposed to focusing narrowly on gay marriage, abortion and contraception, has also been widely reported.
The latest interview was not the first time the pope has spoken favorably of civil unions. While he was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010 and Argentina was on the brink of legalizing gay marriage, then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio support legalizing civil unions as a compromise. He also called same-sex marriage “an attempt to destroy God’s plan” and said gay adoption was a kind of discrimination against children. LGBT rights organizations and gay Catholics have hailed Francis' for making more positive statements on gay people during his papacy.
In the new Italian report, the pope also spoke of the church's teachings on contraception. The interviewer asked the pope if he thought teachings on medical and sexual ethics were "non-negotiable values," a phrase that Benedict XVI had used. Francis said he "never understood the expression 'non-negotiable values.'"
"Values are values, period," the pope said. "I cannot say that, among the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than another. That is why I cannot understand in what sense there could be negotiable values."
But Francis had positive words for the church's 1968 encyclical "Humanae Vitae," which came out under Pope Paul VI and banned contraception in the church.
Francis said Paul's "genius was prophetic, he had the courage to side against the majority, defend moral discipline, put a brake on the culture, oppose neo-Malthusianism, present and future." But Paul had told Catholics to interpret the "Humanae Vitae" with "much mercy, attention to concrete situations," Francis said.
"The question is not whether to change the doctrine, but to go deeper and make sure that pastoral care takes account of situations and of what each person is able to do," the current pope added.
Aside from sexual and marriage issues, Francis also elaborated on his views of the church's response to sex abuse by priests and the broader public's image of his papacy thus far.
"The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No-one else has done more," Francis said of sex abuse. "Yet the Church is the only one to have been attacked."
The pope, who has become somewhat of a celebrity icon during his short papacy for his statements on LGBT issues, church and pastoral humility and his media-friendly personality, added that he was not a fan of the "mythology" of him as more than human.
"To depict the pope as a sort of superman, a sort of star, seems offensive to me. The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone else, a normal person," he said.
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