Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Evgeny Afineevsky [right] meets The Pope (L'Osservatore Romano)
Last year, Pope Francis made global headlines when he appeared to endorse same-sex unions for the first time, in footage used in upcoming documentary Francesco.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family," he said. "They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it. What we have to create is a civil union law.”
This month, however, news emerged of a Vatican decree banning blessings of same-sex unions ("God does not bless sin") in which gay sex was described as "intrinsically disordered."
So, where exactly does the Pope stand on LGBTQ issues? Evgeny Afineevsky, Francesco's openly gay director, is for one utterly convinced the Pope is an ally.
"I can tell you, putting my hands on my heart, he is," said the filmmaker of his personal interactions with the Pope, in an interview with Attitude ahead of the film's 28 March release.
"He believes every human person has equal rights and we're all children of God. You can see by his relationship with Juan Carlos Cruz, and you can see by his relationship with me."
Cruz - a gay man and clerical sex abuse survivor this week appointed to a Vatican panel on the scandal - is heard in Francesco describing the support he's personally received from the Pope, as are a pair of same-sex fathers facing anti-gay prejudice from their religious community.
"He had been an ally before he became Pope," Afineevsky says. "When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires [...] he made the same statement, what we have to create is a civil union law - that way these people are legally covered. In my movie, he's stating that. He said that many times to me, to others, it is written in books about him.
"[...] When we had the conversation, he explained to me, 'I am a priest. I care about every human being. I need to protect every human life, no matter of colour of skin, religion or their sexual belief. We need to create civil union laws in every country that will protect people against discrimination. And we'll give them equal rights with others.'"
Afineevsky also points to how, last July, the Pope sent money to trans sex workers in Italy as further evidence of his allyship.
Daniel Ibanez Gutierrez / EWTN
"During the pandemic, he has helped gay and transgender people - his actions speak louder than life," he says. "Yes, he's got limitations because he is governing the oldest institution in the world. But he is doing the same gestures that Jesus Christ would do. He's welcoming and showing that, hey, we're all equal."
Asked if he shared his own sexuality with the Pope, Afineevsky replies: "Yes, he knows that I'm gay. [...] He respects me for who I am. The most important thing for Pope Francis is that I will be a good person. That's where his respect comes from."
The 48-year-old continued: "He supports Juan Carlos Cruz - comforting him and making him feel that he is a human being, that he is a child of God - I think the same relates to me, because my personal story is also not easy. I have somebody in my life... I love this person. I deeply love someone who unfortunately can't be with me because his mother is Catholic and doesn't want to see her son being with another man.
"So, here's my story and I said it to the world and I am not afraid to say it. And that's, I guess, why it's important to bring this [film] to the world. Because we all deserve true love."
Francesco is out on 28 March 2021 on discovery+.