Pope Francis has endorsed same-sex civil unions for the first time as pontiff while being interviewed for the feature-length documentary Francesco, which had its premiere at the Rome Film Festival on Wednesday.

The papal thumbs-up comes midway through the film, which delves into issues such as the environment, poverty, migration, racial and income inequality, and the people most affected by discrimination.

While serving as archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages but he had never publicly backed civil unions as pope.

‘Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,’ he said in one of his sit-down interviews for the film.

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‘They are children of God. What we have to have is a civil union law, that way they are legally covered.’

Director Evgeny Afineevsky had remarkable access to cardinals, the Vatican television archives and the pope himself.

He said he negotiated his way in through persistence and deliveries of Argentine mate tea and Alfajores cookies that he got to the Pope via some well-connected Argentines in Rome.

More follows.