VATICAN CITY, March 5 (UPI) -- The Catholic Church could tolerate some types of non-marital civil unions as a way to guarantee property rights and healthcare, Pope Francis said Wednesday.
In an interview with the Italian publication Corriere Della Sera Wednesday, the pontiff also said the church would not change its teaching against artificial birth control, but should take care to apply it with "much mercy," Catholic News Service said.
"Matrimony is between a man and a woman," the pope said in the interview, but actions to "regulate diverse situations of cohabitation [are] driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care. ... It is necessary to look at the diverse cases and evaluate them in their variety."
He also defended the church's response to sex abuse by priests and bemoaned his being elevated to superhero status by popular culture, CNS said.
Pope Francis said sex abuse by priests left "very profound wounds," but that, starting with Pope Benedict XVI, the church has done "perhaps more than anyone" to solve the issue.
"Statistics on the phenomenon of violence against children are shocking, but they also clearly show the great majority of abuses occur in family and neighborhood settings," Pope Francis said. "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."
Commenting on his near rock-star popularity, Pope Francis criticized "a certain mythology" that had been assigned to him.
"To portray the pope as a kind of superman, a type of star, strikes me as offensive," Francis said. "The pope is a man who laughs, weeps, sleeps soundly and has friends like everybody else. A normal person."
Pope Francis said he has sought advice from his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and encouraged him to "go out and participate in the life of the church," most recently by appearing at a Feb. 22 ceremony with the College of Cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica.
"The pope emeritus is not a statue in a museum," Pope Francis said.
Asked about the Vatican's lack of diplomatic relations with China, whose government requires Catholics to register, Pope Francis said he had written to Chinese President Xi Jinping "when he was elected, three days after me. And he answered me. There are some relations."