Listen to this story:
ROME – Pope Francis dropped in at the end of a screening of a documentary which created an international media fiasco last year for inventing a papal soundbite on civil unions.
The Francesco documentary by gay Russian Jewish filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky was shown to a group of migrant and refugee families, including around 20 who had just been evacuated from Afghanistan, inside the Vatican’s new synod hall on Monday evening.
According to the Vatican, the screening was organized by Afineevsky and the Laudato Si Foundation, dedicated to spreading the message of Francis’s 2015 eco-encyclical bearing the same name.
Pope Francis met with roughly 100 people during his brief appearance, including the refugees from Afghanistan, to whom he addressed a short greeting “of affection and comfort.”
After the pope’s departure, food packages were distributed to everyone in attendance.
The film was released in late October 2020 and featured a bombshell quote from Pope Francis who in a short 20-second clip said that homosexual individuals “have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.”
“You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered,” the pope is heard saying in the clip.
Those remarks made headlines around the world, with papers and news outlets everywhere claiming that Pope Francis had become the first pope in history to endorse same-sex civil unions.
Amid the firestorm, Afineevsky said that the comments had been given to him during fresh interviews granted specifically for his documentary, however, doubt began to arise about the truthfulness of that claim in the days following the film’s release.
After extensive analysis of the 20-second clip by members of the Vatican press corps, it was established that those remarks from Pope Francis were not made in a new interview with Afineevsky, but that they had been taken from an interview the pope had given to Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki of Televisa in 2019 and patched together to create a soundbite implying the pope’s support of same-sex civil unions.
Televisa eventually came out and acknowledged that the remarks did indeed come from their interview, explaining that the 20-second clip in question was not released with the rest of the interview in 2019 because the Vatican had managed the camerawork and editing of the tape, and when it was sent back to them, the portion on civil unions had been edited out.
When Afineevsky began to work Vatican channels for the documentary in 2018, it appears he was given unbridled access to the raw footage held in the Vatican’s media archives.
The Vatican attempted to explain the move to bishops through a letter from the Secretariat of State shortly after the documentary’s release, however, to date they have offered no clarification or statement of any kind on the incident.
In this context, many were surprised to see Francesco get a Vatican screening, and even more surprised Pope Francis showed up, appearing to give the film his stamp of approval.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen