ROME (WPVI) -- Pope Francis became the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions in comments for a documentary that premiered Wednesday, sparking cheers from gay Catholics and demands for clarification from conservatives, given the Vatican's official teaching on the issue.
The papal thumbs-up came midway through the feature-length documentary "Francesco," which premiered at the Rome Film Festival. The film, which features fresh interviews with the pope, delves into issues Francis cares about most, including the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.
"Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God," Francis said. "You can't kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered."
While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages. However, he had never come out publicly in favor of civil unions as pope, and no pontiff before him had, either.
The pope's comments came with some mix reaction. In South Philadelphia, Jackie Hadlock and her son, Michael Desalis, are Catholic, but they are split on same-sex civil unions.
"You don't get to choose who you are and what you are and how you are," said Jackie Hadlock.
"My faith doesn't believe that it should be included. It should not be merged together as one," her son added.
Philadelphia Vatican expert Rocco Palmo says this shouldn't come as a shock.
"On the part of people who claim to be upholding church teaching, they're not upholding church teaching. They're using church teaching as like a weapon, to hit people with their political prejudices and he wants to get rid of that within the church."
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia released this statement after Pope Francis expressed his support:
"There has been much recent attention paid to comments attributed to the Holy Father in a documentary that premiered in Rome this week. It is important to note that the remarks appeared in the context of a film and not a Church teaching document. Further, the references involved civil unions. The Holy Father has consistently affirmed the Sacrament of Marriage as a union between one man and one woman on many occasions just as he has affirmed the need to treat all people with respect and dignity.
The recent comments underscore the Holy Father's previous calls for pastoral and cultural sensitivity to the many different journeys of those who walk through life around us."
For Will McQuillen, who is in a same-sex relationship and is Catholic, the news came as a shock.
"It preaches what I always learned as a Catholic which is love, kindness, inclusiveness," said McQuillen.
He says to his fellow Catholics who don't support his life or what the pope said, "Inclusiveness and love is two of the biggest components of our faith and there's room for everyone, just room for everyone. That's a big part of the faith."
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Pope Francis endorses same-sex civil unions in new documentary film
U.S. & WORLD