POPE FRANCIS has given his blessing to same-sex civil partnerships in a historic shift hailed as ‘immensely powerful and moving’ by campaigners.
The 83-year-old Pontiff (pictured) said gay people had ‘the right to be in a family’ and should be protected by law, in a major departure from the Catholic Church’s traditional doctrine that homosexual acts are ‘sinful’.
He made his comments in an interview for a documentary, Francesco, premiered at the Rome Film Festival yesterday. The Pope told film-makers: ‘Homosexual people are children of God. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it.
‘What we have to have is a civil union law — that way they are legally covered.’ Gay rights campaigners said that his comments would help the ongoing fight for equality.
However, some Christians accused the Pope of going against the Bible’s teachings and called for him to be replaced.
Pope Francis endorsed civil unions when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, before becoming Pontiff in 2013.
But this is the first time he has spoken out as head of the Catholic Church, which religious experts said could have a huge impact.
The Pope’s comments are in stark contrast to a Vatican statement, signed by his predecessor Pope Benedict in 2003.
Joseph Ratzinger, then a cardinal, said that while gay people should be respected, it ‘cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions’.
Nancy Kelley, chief executive of UK gay rights charity Stonewall, said the Pope’s announcement was a major step forward.
She added: ‘We know from our research that a third of lesbian, gay and bi people aren’t open with anyone in their faith community about their sexual orientation.
‘So Pope Francis’s words will not only help build bridges between the Catholic Church and LGBT people who have felt rejected and excluded from it, but also move the Church to a place where our love is recognised as being as valid as any other.’ But not everyone was happy with the Pontiff’s stance on homosexuality.
Thomas Tobin, Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, said: ‘The Pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the church about same-sex unions.’
He added: ‘The church cannot support the acceptance of immoral relationships.’
Pope Francis has widely been seen as more liberal than his predecessors and has spoken out on issues such as climate change and capitalism, which he has described as ‘unsustainable’.
In 2016, he suggested that the use of emergency contraception might be acceptable as the ‘lesser of two evils’ in slowing the spread of the Zika virus, when compared with abortion — which he described as ‘a crime, [and] an absolute evil’.