ROME — The world premiere of a documentary on Pope Francis was supposed to have been a bright spot for a papacy locked down by a pandemic and besieged by a corruption scandal.
It was a look back at Francis’ glory days travelling the world to bless the oppressed.
But the red carpet rollout of “Francesco” has been anything but bright, with evidence that the Vatican censored the pope last year by deleting his endorsement of same-sex civil unions from an interview, only to have the footage resurface in the new film.
Aside from the firestorm the remarks created, the “Francesco” fiasco has highlighted the Vatican’s often self-inflicted communications wounds and Francis’ willingness to push his own agenda, even at the expense of fuelling pushback from conservative Catholics.
That pushback was swift and came from predictable corners: Cardinal Raymond Burke, Francis’ frequent nemesis on matters of doctrine, said the pope’s comments were devoid of any “magisterial weight.”
But in a statement, Burke expressed concern that such personal opinions coming from the pope “generate great bewilderment and cause confusion and error among Catholic faithful.”
The kerfuffle began Wednesday with the world premiere of “Francesco,” a feature-length film on Francis and the issues he cares most about: climate change, refugees and social inequality.
Midway through, Francis delivers the bombshell quote that gays deserve to be part of the family and that he supported civil unions, or a “ley de convivencia civil” as he said in Spanish _ to give them legal protections.
Christopher Lamb of Britain’s The Tablet magazine, noted Friday that in some countries, the rights of gays are a life and death matter, and that Francis was merely positioning the church to defend L-G-B-T Catholics from perhaps deadly discrimination.
But the contents of the pope’s words were almost lost in the controversy that ensued over their origin.
At first, film director Evgeny Afineevsky claimed Francis made them directly to him.
Then one of Francis’ media advisers said they came from a 2019 interview with Mexican broadcaster Televisa, and were old news as a result.
Televisa confirmed the origin of the quotes, but said they never aired.
The Vatican has refused to comment and imposed something of a media blackout on the matter.
None of the Vatican’s in-house media has reported on the cut quote, and on Friday the Il Fatto Quotidiano daily quoted an email from a staffer in the Vatican’s communications ministry to other staff saying there wouldn’t be any comment, but that “talks are underway to deal with the current media crisis.”
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