Pope Francis appears ready to lead Catholics worldwide to a greater recognition of same-sex unions, declaring in a new documentary that same-sex couples are "children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it."
While stopping well short of endorsing actual same-sex marriage, the pope said that such couples should be legally recognized. "What we have to create is a civil union law," he said.
As modest as such a statement may seem by contemporary standards, it could be the start of a dramatic shift in that attitude of the Catholic Church toward same-sex couples.
In the U.S., same-sex marriage has been legal since 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on such unions in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges case. Minnesota legalized same-sex marriage by statute in 2013.
Nevertheless, even with those legal protections, same-sex couples have suffered from discrimination. The Catholic Church has opposed same-sex marriage and Catholic catechism continues to teach that "homosexual persons are called to chastity," rather than engage in what the church considers "disordered acts."
Francis' remarks, in the documentary "Francesco," hopefully will pave the way for a new understanding and inclusion by the Catholic Church. Already, his comments are eliciting mixed reactions, with LGBT Catholic groups hailing it as historic, while conservative groups are downplaying the significance and calling for further clarity.
If Francis indeed intends to shift Catholic teaching and fully recognize the humanity and sexuality of same-sex couples, it will take more than comments in a documentary. It will take a full-tilt effort by the pontiff. Those forces within the church that have opposed such a shift remain strong and organized. But the change is needed now more than ever. Even in the U.S., same-sex couples are experiencing fresh alarm based on a recent dissent from Supreme Court Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, and court nominee Amy Coney Barrett's background and elusiveness on the issue during her confirmation hearings.
Francis has seemed to make a clear statement of his intent, and it represents an affirming change for the Church.