Pope Francis, who welcomed gay couples to the Vatican on several occasions, defended their right to have a family in a documentary that premiered at the Rome Film Festival.

Pope Francis waves from the balcony of St Peter's basilica during the traditional
Pope Francis waves from the balcony of St Peter's basilica during the traditional "Urbi et Orbi" Christmas message to the city and the world, at St Peter's square in the Vatican on December 25, 2019. (AFP)

Pope Francis has said that homosexuals should be protected by civil union laws in some of the clearest language he has used on the rights of gay people since his election seven years ago.

He made his comments in a new documentary "Francesco" by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky that was released on Wednesday.

"These are children of God, they have the right to a family," Francis says in the film, speaking in Spanish.

"What we have to create is a law of civil union, they have the right to be legally protected. I have defended that," said Francis.

Formerly known as Jorge Bergoglio, he has always voiced opposition to gay marriage, saying that marriage should only be between a man and woman.

"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."

READ MORE: Is Pope Francis a left-leaning Catholic leader?

'No judgements'

After becoming pope in 2013, Francis took an unprecedented welcoming tone towards homosexuals, launching his famous phrase, "Who am I to judge?" and welcoming gay couples to the Vatican on several occasions.

The two-hour documentary 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 the parish.

Francis invites them to continue to go to church regardless of the judgments of others.

Chilean Juan Carlos Cruz, an activist against sexual abuse within the church, accompanied the director to the film screening on Wednesday.

"When I met Pope Francis he told me he was very sorry about what happened.

Juan, it is God who made you gay and he loves you anyway. God loves you and the pope loves you too," says Cruz in the film.

The Russian-born Afineevsky, who attended the pope's general audience in the Vatican on Wednesday, was nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy in 2016 for "Winter of Fire" about the 2013-2014 protests in Ukraine.

In 2018 he received three Emmy nominations for "Cries from Syria" about that country's civil war.

READ MORE: Pope Francis calls for compassion towards divorced

Source: TRTWorld and agencies