HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - While being interviewed for the documentary "Francesco," which premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival, Pope Francis gave a "thumbs up" endorsing same-sex civil unions.
The Pope said, "Homosexual people have a right to be family; they are children of God. We have to have civil union as a law, that way they are legally covered."
"I am taken aback, actually," said Father Tony Hash of Saint Joan of Arc in Virginia Beach.
Hash is a gay Catholic priest in Virginia Beach. He was baptized in 1981 and went to a Roman Catholic monastery. His church is part of the United American Catholic Church, and he says he is encouraged by the Pontiff's remarks, especially for Catholic gay couples shunned by their own religion.
"That struggle is magnified when you get to church because church is salvation. Church means going to Heaven, and your church is supposed to love you," said Hash.
While serving as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Francis endorsed civil unions for gay couples as an alternative to same-sex marriages, but he has never came out publicly in favor of civil unions as Pope.
Officially, the church teaches that homosexual acts are disordered. The Pope hasn’t altered the church doctrine, but those in the LGBTQ community find his current remarks welcoming and much needed.
"It is showing the world that LGBTQ people deserve to live full, healthy lives," said Casey Butler, Community Engagement Coordinator with the LGBT Life Center.
Butler grew up Catholic himself, and he says the Pope's statements ring personal for him and those who many be struggling to come out to their Catholic church.
"This is huge for those youth in the Catholic church. They are now hearing this message from the Pope, and I think it can be life-saving and affirming for those people," said Butler.
Both Father Hash and Butler hope this major shift from the Vatican stance will gain traction.
"It is going to be a little bit of a war. There will be pushback, but with pain comes the beginning of birth," said Hash.