The pontiff made the comment in a wide-ranging interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera published Wednesday.
Francis reiterated the church's stance that marriage is between a man and a woman before adding that moves to "regulate diverse situations of cohabitation (are) driven by the need to regulate economic aspects among persons, as for instance to assure medical care," according to the Catholic News Service.
While the pope's remark opens the door to support for same-sex civil unions, he did not endorse them outright. The Catholic News Service noted "until now, no pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions."
Since he took over as head of the church, Francis has been praised for criticizing Catholics' obsession with social issues like gay marriage, contraception and abortion. But the pontiff told Corriere della Sera in the same interview that he found that cult of personality growing around him offensive.