Pope Francis has voiced support for same-sex couples, calling them "children of God" and saying they should be allowed to have legally recognised civil unions. While his stance is a radical shift from previous pontiffs and traditional Catholic policy, the pontiff remains against gay marriage.
The pope, whose opposition to gay marriage remains unchanged, made his comments in a documentary premiered at the Rome Film Festival: "These are children of God, they have the right to be in a family.
"What we have to create is a law of civil union, they have the right to be legally protected. I have defended that," he said in filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky's Francesco.
According to biographer Austen Ivereigh, Francis backed civil unions for gay couples while he was still the archbishop of Buenos Aires.
Pope remains opposed to gay marriage
But while the pontiff has previously spoken about same-sex unions, he has always voiced opposition to gay marriage, saying that marriage should only be between a man and woman.
"'Marriage' is a historic word," he told French sociologist Dominique Wolton in a 2017 interview.
"Always among human beings, and not only in the Church, it has been between a man and a woman. You can't just change that like that."
Long history of respect for homosexuals
"Since the beginning of the pontificate the pope has spoken of respect for homosexuals and has been against their discrimination," Vatican expert Vania de Luca told RaiNews.
"The novelty today is that he defends as pope a law for civil unions."
After becoming Roman Catholic leader in 2013, Francis took an unprecedented welcoming tone towards LGBTQ individuals, launching his famous phrase, "Who am I to judge?" and welcoming gay couples to the Vatican on several occasions.
The two-hour documentary screened at the Rome Festival on Wednesday traces the seven years of his pontificate and his travels.
Among the most moving moments of the film is the pope's phone call to a gay couple, parents of three young children, in response to a letter they sent him saying how ashamed they were to bring their children to their parish.
Francis invites them to continue to go to church, regardless of the judgements of others.
In the past, he has regularly said gay people should be accepted in their parishes and urged parents not to reject their children on the grounds of their sexuality.