Pope Francis has told a gay comedian that people who “select or discard” gay people because of their sexuality “don’t have a human heart.”
The Pope made the comments to British comedian Stephen K Amos during the BBC series Pilgrimage: The Road To Rome.
The three-part series took British celebrities on a backpacking tour of the Via Francigena. In the final episode, the celebrities were given a surprise audience with the Pope — though Amos told British newspaper i that he initially refused the meeting.
“I’ve been quite vocal in my criticism in certain aspects of the Catholic Church,” Amos said. “I thought a private audience meant you go and see him, he blesses you and you leave. I couldn’t in all conscience go and do that, it’s not me.”
Amos only agreed to participate if he could ask the Pope questions.
“The producers asked, well, what sort of questions, as we don’t want to spark a diplomatic incident,” he said. “So we gave in some questions and the answer came back from the Vatican that the Pope will answer any questions that you have.”
During the audience with Pope Francis, Amos explained why he had participated in the pilgrimage.
“I lost my mother, three months ago I buried my twin sister, who were both very religious,” he told Francis. “So me coming on this pilgrimage, being non-religious, I was looking for answers and faith. But as a gay man, I don’t feel accepted.”
But Pope Francis — who has had something of an uneven record with regards acceptance of LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church — offered a surprising response.
“Giving more importance to the adjective [gay] rather than the noun [man], this is not good,” he told Amos. “We are all human beings and have dignity. It does not matter who you are, or how you live your life — you do not lose your dignity.
“There are people that prefer to select or discard people because of the adjective. These people don’t have a human heart.”
Amos told i that he was “blindsided” by the Pope’s answer.
“I was expecting a stock answer, but when he answered in such a candid way, that completely blindsided me,” he said. “In all fairness he said something that was quite magnificent, because he is one of the most progressive popes in recent times.”
Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBTQ people and the Church, praised Francis’ words in a statement, saying it “shows the pope prizing the church’s social justice tradition over the sexual ethics tradition.
“In saying ‘It does not matter who you are, or how you live your life — you do not lose your dignity,’ the pope is showing that the social justice tradition about human dignity is more important than teachings about sexuality,” DeBernardo said. “This is an important shift because while many church leaders, especially in the U.S., often mention both traditions in their comments about LGBT issues, [the] social justice tradition is often given short shrift in comparison to the sexual ethics tradition, and it often appears to be regarded as secondary, not primary, as the pope has made it in this comment. This shift will have great impact, as it is the way so many lay Catholics, but not leaders, view LGBT issues.”
However, while Pope Francis is viewed as a more liberal leader than his predecessor Benedict XVI — who once bragged about dissolving the “gay lobby” inside the Vatican — the church is still far from open and accepting towards LGBTQ Catholics.
Earlier this year, Francis was asked by a group of gay Catholic priests to not endorse efforts to ban gay men from the priesthood.
In a letter to Francis, signed by the Netherlands-based Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors, the men objected to the Pope’s past statements on the matter and the continuation of a policy that prevents openly gay men from being ordained.
Last December, Francis said in an interview that the issue of gay clergy members “worries” him and is a “serious matter.”
Francis called “the issue of homosexuality” a “very serious matter,” and said that sexuality must be “adequately discerned” from prospective clergy candidates.
The Pontiff also said that it “seems that homosexuality is fashionable” in society, and “this mentality…affects the life of the Church.”
In May last year he told bishops to seek out and prevent gay priesthood applicants, telling them to “keep your eyes open” and “if in doubt, better not let them enter.”
Francis also condemned same-sex families at an event for Catholic families, saying same-sex couples did not deserve to have their families recognized by the Church.
“People speak of varied families, of various kinds of family [but] the family [as] man and woman in the image of God is the only one,” he said.