While affirming traditional marriage, Pope Francis said the Roman Catholic Church may be open to supporting certain cases of civil unions, particularly when it involves benefits such as healthcare. He made the comments in an extensive new interview with an Italian newspaper on Wednesday.
"Matrimony is between a man and a woman," the pope said in an article by the Corriere della Sera, translated by Catholic News Service, but added that "diverse situations of cohabitation [are] driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care."
"It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety," the Vatican leader added.
In the interview, Francis apparently also stated that the church will remain opposed to the usage of artificial birth control, but said the teaching should be applied with "much mercy." He also defended the Catholic Church's record on handling sex-abuse cases, which has recently been criticized by the U.N., noting that "no-one else has done more" to root out pedophilia, according to BBC News.
"The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility," the pope said.
"The statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show that the great majority of abuses are carried out in family or neighborhood environments."
The pope also said that he finds the hype created around him to be "offensive," especially when being depicted as a "Superpope." A new Italian gossip magazine was released this week titled "My Pope," centered entirely around Francis.
"I don't like ideological interpretations, this type of mythology of Pope Francis. If I'm not mistaken, Sigmund Freud said that in every idealization there's an aggression. Depicting the pope as a sort of Superman, a star, is offensive to me," he commented.
"The pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps calmly and has friends like everyone else. A normal person."
As for the pope's stance on civil unions, the National Catholic Reporter said in a March 2013 article that throughout his career, Francis has been supportive of traditional marriage, but has expressed openness to legal arrangements to protect the rights of same-sex couples.
NCR also noted that several Vatican officials have expressed support for such unions in the past, when it comes to protecting people's rights.
Speaking more broadly about sexual and medical ethics, Francis told Corriere della Sera that he has never really understood the expression of "non-negotiable values."
"Values are values, period," Francis said. "I cannot say that, among the fingers of a hand, there is one less useful than another. That is why I cannot understand in what sense there could be negotiable values."
The Roman Catholic leader added that he continues his longtime practice of calling up people who write him letters sharing their problems in life. Once a month, he calls an 80-year-old widow who lost her son.