Pope Francis says “matrimony is between a man and a woman” but has hinted that he could eventually accept the principle of civil partnerships.

The Catholic leader reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to equal marriage in an interview published yesterday by Italy’s Corriere della Sera paper – at the same time as saying legal provisions around same-sex relationships needed to be addressed.

Pope Francis appeared to indicate that the Catholic Church should judge non-marital civil unions on a case-by-case basis.

“The secular states want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of cohabitation, driven by the need to regulate economic aspects between people, like, for example, ensuring health care,” he was quoted as saying. “The different cases need to be looked at and evaluated in their variety.”

When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis is reported to have been a supporter of same-sex civil partnerships as a potential compromise with the government when it was pushing through equal marriage legislation.

The Guardian reports on Wednesday the Vatican saying that Pope Francis had in the interview been speaking “in very general terms and did not specifically refer to same-sex marriage as a civil union.”

In January, the Vatican denied suggestions that Pope Francis was ready to support civil partnerships.