VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all His children as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.
“Being gay is not a crime,” Francis said during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Francis acknowledged that in some parts of the world Catholic bishops support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against LGBTQ people, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin”. But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, saying that bishops in particular must undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.
“These bishops must have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they must apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each of us.”
Francis’ remarks, hailed as a milestone by gay rights advocates, are the first a pope has spoken out on such laws. But they are also consistent with his general approach to LGBTQ people and belief that the Catholic Church should welcome everyone and not discriminate.
About 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or will carry the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say that even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigma and violence against LGBTQ people.
In the US, more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say the outdated laws are being used to justify harassment, pointing to new legislation, such as Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law, which requires instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade class, as evidence of ongoing efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws that outright criminalize homosexuality, saying they violate the right to privacy and freedom from discrimination and violate countries’ obligations under international law to protect human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In declaring such laws “unjust,” Francis said the Catholic Church can and must work to end them. “It has to do this. It has to do this,” he said.
Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in which he said that gays should be welcomed and respected and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.
“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis told the AP at the Vatican hotel where he lives.
Francis’ comments come ahead of a trip to Africa, where such laws are common, as they are in the Middle East. Many date back to British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly argued that they are in line with Vatican teachings, while others have called for them to be destroyed as a violation of basic human dignity.
In 2019, Francis was expected to make a statement opposing the criminalization of homosexuality while meeting with human rights groups investigating the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”
In the end, after the message was leaked from the public, the pope did not meet with the groups. Instead, Vatican No. 2 affirmed and affirmed “the dignity of every human person and against every form of violence.”
There was no indication that Francis was now ruling on such laws, as his more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, recently passed away. The issue had never been raised in an interview before, but Francis was happy to respond, even citing statistics on how many countries have criminalized homosexuality.
On Tuesday, Francis said there should be a distinction between a crime and a sin related to homosexuality. According to church teaching, homosexual acts are sinful or “intrinsically disordered”, but gay people should be treated with dignity and respect.
Mocking himself, Francis expressed the position: “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”
“It is also a sin to miss charity with each other,” he added.
Francis has not changed the teachings of the Church, which have long enraged gay Catholics. But he has made reaching out to LGBTQ people a hallmark of his papacy.
The pope’s remarks did not refer specifically to transgender or non-binary people, but only to homosexuality, but advocates of greater LGBTQ integration in the Catholic Church hailed the pope’s remarks as an important step forward.
“His historic statement should send a message to world leaders and millions of Catholics around the world: LGBTQ people deserve to live in a world free of violence and condemnation, and more kindness and understanding,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO. of the US. -based advocacy group GLAAD.
New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBTQ advocacy group, said the church hierarchy’s silence on such laws has so far had devastating consequences, perpetuating such policies and fueling violent rhetoric against LGBTQ people.
“The Pope reminds the Church that the way people treat each other in the social world is of far greater moral importance than what people might do in the privacy of a bedroom,” the group’s executive director Francis DeBernardo said in a statement. statement. .
One of the cardinals recently appointed by the Pope – Robert McElroy, the Bishop of San Diego – is one of the Catholics who would like the Church to move forward and fully welcome LGBTQ people to the Church, even if they are sexually active .
“It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a deep and ingrained animosity toward members of the LGBT community,” McElroy wrote Tuesday in the Jesuit magazine America. “The Church’s main witness to this bigotry must be one of embrace rather than renunciation or condemnation.”
Starting with his famous 2013 statement, “Who am I to judge?” – when asked about an apparently gay priest – Francis has repeatedly and publicly ministered to the gay and transgender communities. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he advocated granting legal protection to same-sex couples as an alternative to sanctioning same-sex marriage, which Catholic doctrine prohibits.
Despite such an outreach, Francis has drawn criticism from the gay Catholic community over a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s Doctrine Office stating that the Church cannot bless same-sex unions.
In 2008, the Vatican refused to sign a UN statement calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, complaining that the text went beyond its original scope. In a statement at the time, the Vatican urged countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gays and end punishments against them.