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Christopher Prowse says Pope will not change stance on gay unions

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Larissa Nicholson, Mex Cooper and Lucy Carroll

Pope Francis has likely not signalled a new acceptance of civil unions by the Catholic Church, the Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn says.

Christopher Prowse was responding to an interview the pope gave to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera and subsequent worldwide reports that the pontiff had indicated a new openness to accepting civil unions.

In the interview, Pope Francis reiterated that gay marriage could not be accepted by the Catholic church. ''Marriage is between a man and a woman,'' he said.

But he appeared to leave the door open for the church to support other formally recognised relationships that would provide economic security and healthcare. He also called for women to play a greater role in the church.

Archbishop Prowse said he had read a full transcription the news story and checked it in Italian.

He said it was likely the comments had been misinterpreted, saying Pope Francis had indicated he was aware of the different types of civil unions around the world, not that he would change church teachings.

The Pope had reiterated his support for traditional heterosexual marriage, the archbishop said.

''It's hardly a green light for civil ceremonies,'' Archbishop Prowse said.

Archbishop Prowse said the Pope's interview showed his pastoral approach and a willingness to talk to followers about relationships.

''A willingness to dialogue isn't a willingness to compromise,'' he said.

Bishop Peter Comensoli, of Sydney's archdiocese, said while the Pope said marriage was between a man and a woman, he ''recognises individual situations and all sorts of positions people are in''.

''In terms of other arrangements, and those in de facto relationships, we respect the laws of the state,'' he said. ''We understand these arrangements are often around things to do with economic relations between people and questions of care and health.''

Pope Francis said secular states wanted to ''justify'' civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, pushed by the ''demand to regulate economic aspects between persons''.

''It is about pacts of cohabiting of various natures, of which I wouldn't know how to list the different ways. One needs to see the different cases and evaluate them in their variety,'' he said.

In the interview, Pope Francis also acknowledged the ''very deep wounds'' caused by child sex abuse by Catholic priests but he was also reported as saying the church was ''perhaps the only public institution to have moved with transparency and accountability''.

''No one else has done more,'' he said. ''Yet the church is the only one to be attacked.''

A leading victims' rights group said those comments were proof the Catholic Church was still in denial about the problem.

Broken Rites spokeswoman Chris MacIsaac said the pontiff's comments showed the church was still unable to face the truth about how child sexual abuse by its priests had been handled.

''For the Catholic Church to claim that they are perhaps the only public institution to have moved with transparency and accountability in regard to sexual abuse shows that their church leaders are still in denial of the facts,'' she said.

She said in Australia, it had been victims of clergy sex abuse who reported the crimes to the police, not the church.

''Clergy have been and are being found guilty of committing crimes against children but only as a result of victims coming forward,'' she said.

''Where is the church's transparency and accountability here?''

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