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pope-francisBefore he donned the holy vestments of the Papacy, thus becoming Francis I, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio advocated for civil unions for gay couples, albeit secretly and in an attempt to sidestep full marriage equality in Argentina.

Though he publicly led the charge against Argentina’s inevitable legalization of gay marriage, in a private meeting between bishops, the man who would be Pope suggested a compromise.

Bergoglio said the church should support civil unions as the “lesser of two evils,” his authorized biographer Sergio Rubin told The New York Times. “He wagered on a position of greater dialogue with society.”

The bishops would have none of it, however, and overruled the Cardinal — the first and only time he lost a battle in his six-year tenure as head of Argentina’s bishops’ conference. Still, throughout the debate, Bergoglio continued the societal dialogue.

Marcelo Márquez, a gay rights leader and theologian, wrote to Cardinal Bergoglio, and to his surprise received a call from him less than an hour after it had arrived. “He listened to my views with a great deal of respect,” Márquez said. “He told me that homosexuals need to have recognized rights and that he supported civil unions, but not same-sex marriage.”

But don’t go throwing a gay papal parade in Francis I’s honor just because he said some not-horrible things off-the-record, since he has been on record for being pretty horrible.

“The reality, beyond what he may have said in private meetings, was that he said some terrible things in public,” said Esteban Paulón, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals. “He took a role, in public, that was determinedly combative.”

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