Mystery over pope's 'missing' gay unions quote

The Vatican may have cut Pope Francis' remarks on same-sex civil unions out of an interview with a Mexican journalist in 2019, according to reports which raised the spectre Friday of papal censorship.

Pope Francis arrives to lead his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican on October 21, 2020. (Photo by VINCENZO PINTO / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Francis stunned many this week with his comment that gay couples should be allowed to have legally recognised civil unions -- a radical shift from the Vatican's official stance.

"What we have to create is a law of civil union, they have the right to be legally protected," the Argentine pontiff said in a documentary which premiered at the Rome Film Festival Wednesday.

Questions immediately arose over where and when Francis made the comments -- and whether they had been censored by the Vatican or Mexico's largest media conglomerate.

"The pope made the comments in an interview with the Vatican correspondent for the Mexican broadcaster Televisa," Teresa Villa, a Televisa spokeswoman, was quoted by the New York Times as saying late Thursday.

But the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) said the phrase in question "did not originally appear in the video of the interview" by seasoned journalist Valentina Alazraki, which aired in May 2019.

Both the Vatican and Alazraki declined to comment to AFP.

Papal interviews are filmed by the Vatican's inhouse television unit, which then provides the full footage to the journalist to edit.

Two people "close to" Televisa were cited anonymously by the New York Times as saying the Vatican had requested it be given control over the footage.

The Vatican cut out the pope's remarks on same-sex unions in the edited version provided to Televisa, they reportedly said.

The sources said the excerpt was "never seen" by the network.

It appeared to have only emerged after filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky was allowed access to the Vatican archives for his documentary, which included the raw footage of the Televisa interview, the US daily added.

When asked whether the pope's quote came from the Alazraki interview, a Televisa spokesman referred AFP to the New York Times article.

But he stopped short of saying whether it had received the raw footage of the interview in full from the Vatican.

"With regards to… the alleged editing of the interview footage, we believe that this question should be answered by the Vatican," spokesman Ruben Acosta Montoya said Friday.

"We focused, at that time, on the issue of abuse of minors by clergymen. It was the first time the pope had spoken about it," he said.

NCR Vaticanist Joshua McElwee said Francis' words on civil unions may not have been included in the broadcasted interview because the Vatican or the pope may have "originally asked the comments not be used".

Or the broadcaster "did not find them newsworthy", as the pope had spoken in favor of civil unions in 2017 and 2014, albeit in a much less direct fashion.