But the pope's mention of having previously "stood up" for civil unions seems to confirm the reports of Rubin and others who said that then-Cardinal Bergoglio supported privately the idea of civil unions as a compromise in Argentina.
In the 2013 book "On Heaven and Earth," Pope Francis did not reject the possibility of civil unions outright, but did say that laws "assimilating" homosexual relationships to marriage are "an anthropological regression," and he expressed concern that if same-sex couples "are given adoption rights, there could be affected children. Every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity."
In 2014, Fr. Thomas Rosica, who was then working in the Holy See's press office told CNA that Pope Francis had not expressed support for same-sex civil unions, after some journalists reported that he had done so in an an interview that year. While a civil unions proposal was debated in Italy, Rosica emphasized that Francis would not weigh in on the debate, but would emphasize Catholic teaching on marriage.
In 2003, under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and at the direction of Pope John Paul II, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taught that "respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions. The common good requires that laws recognize, promote and protect marriage as the basis of the family, the primary unit of society."
"Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean not only the approval of deviant behaviour, with the consequence of making it a model in present-day society, but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity. The Church cannot fail to defend these values, for the good of men and women and for the good of society itself," the CDF added, calling support for such unions from politicians "gravely immoral."
"Not even in a remote analogous sense do homosexual unions fulfil the purpose for which marriage and family deserve specific categorical recognition. On the contrary, there are good reasons for holding that such unions are harmful to the proper development of human society, especially if their impact on society were to increase," the document said.
The Vatican's press office did not respond to questions from CNA on the pope's remarks in the film.
While bishops in some countries have not opposed same-sex civil unions proposals, and tried instead to distinguish them from civil marriage, opponents of civil unions have long warned that they serve as a legislative and cultural bridge to same-sex marraige initiatives, give tacit approval to immorality, and fail to protect the rights of children to be parented by both a mother and father.
Afineevsky told EWTN News this month that he tried in "Francesco" to present the pope as he saw him, and that the film might not please all Catholics. He told CNA Wednesday that in his view, the film is not "about" the pope's call for civil unions, but "about many other global issues."
"I'm looking at him not as the pope, I'm looking at him as a humble human being, great role model to younger generation, leader for the older generation, a leader to many people not in the sense of the Catholic Church, but in the sense of pure leadership, on the ground, on the streets," Afineevsky added.
The documentarian said he began working with the Vatican to produce a film on Pope Francis in 2018, and that he was given unprecedented access to Pope Francis until filming completed in June, amid Italy's coronavirus lockdowns.
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Afineevsky, a Russian-born filmmaker living in the U.S., was in 2015 nominated for both an Academy Award and an Emmy Award for his work "Winter on Fire," a documentary that chronicled Ukraine's 2013 and 2014 Euromaidan protests. His 2017 film "Cries from Syria" was nominated for four News and Documentary Emmy Awards and three Critics' Choice Awards.
On Thursday, Afineevsky will be presented in the Vatican Gardens with the prestigious Kineo Movie for Humanity Award, which recognizes filmmakers who present social and humanitarian issues through filmmaking. The award was established in 2002 by the Italian Ministry of Culture.
Rosetta Sannelli, the creator of the Kineo Awards, noted that "every trip of Pope Francis to various parts of the world is documented in Afineevsky's work, in images and news footage, and reveals itself as an authentic glimpse into the events of our time, a historical work in all respects."