Marriage can only be between a man and a woman, but the Roman Catholic Church could tolerate some types of same-sex civil unions, Pope Francis said in a wide-ranging interview published Wednesday in an Italian newspaper.
The interview with Corriere della Sera, translated by the Catholic News Service, suggested that Francis viewed the unions as a practical way to protect property rights and access to health care.
"Matrimony is between a man and a woman," he said. But he added that efforts to "regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects."
The news service notes that a year ago the president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of non-married couples.
But the news service says that Francis is the first pope to "indicate even tentative acceptance of civil unions."
Francis made global news in July when he said he won't "judge" gay priests. "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" the pope said during a back-and-forth with reporters on a flight home to Rome after a weeklong trip to Brazil.
In his interview with Corriere della Sera, the pope also dismissed his own popularity, saying a baseless mythology has grown up around him. He said he has continued his longtime practice of phoning people who write him, but that rumors that he goes out at night and feeds the homeless are untrue.
"To portray the pope as a kind of superman, a type of star, strikes me as offensive," he said. "The pope is a man who laughs, weeps, sleeps soundly and has friends like everybody else. A normal person."
On other issues:
• Francis praised Pope Paul VI's 1968 letter Humanae Vitae that rejected birth control, but added that Pope Paul had suggested his dictate be applied with "much mercy, attention to concrete situations."
• He acknowledged that sex abuse by priests has damaged lives, but said that since Pope Benedict XVI the church has done "perhaps more than anyone" to solve the problem. "The Catholic Church is perhaps the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility. No one else has done more. And yet the church is the only one attacked."