Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, has condemned laws around the world that criminalize same-sex relationships.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Francis called on Catholic bishops to welcome LGBTQ people into the church, even as it stands by its opposition same-sex marriage, gender-nonconformity, and out-of-wedlock sexual activity.
“Being homosexual is not a crime,” Francis told the AP. “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.
“It’s also a sing to lack charity with one another,” he added.
While Francis acknowledged that some Catholic bishops in parts of the world have supported anti-gay laws criminalizing homosexuality or permitting discrimination, he attributed those beliefs and attitudes to cultural backgrounds, and said that bishops need to undergo a process of “conversion” to recognize the dignity of every human individual.
He said that the bishops should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
Francis also called laws criminalizing homosexuality “unjust” and said the Catholic Church not only can, but should, advocate for the elimination of such laws.
“It must do this. It must do this,” he said.
Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, saying gay people must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized — a stance that upsets conservatives within the Catholic Church.
“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,” the pope said.
At least 67 countries — the majority of which are in Africa or the Middle East — have laws prohibiting same-sex relations, while at least nine others target transgender people by criminalizing gender-nonconformity, according to the watchdog group Human Rights Watch.
Additionally, more than a dozen U.S. states currently have anti-sodomy laws on the books. Those laws prescribe jail for those who engage in same-sex activity, and in some cases, even require violators to register as “sex offenders.” While such laws were declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, law enforcement officials in some of those states whose anti-sodomy laws were never repealed have attempted to enforce them, resulting in the persecution of LGBTQ individuals.
Pope Francis is set to visit South Sudan, one of the 67 countries that criminalizes homosexuality, from Feb. 3-5.
Catholic doctrine maintains that every human being must be treated with respect, but also teach that homosexual acts are considered “intrinsically disordered” and that same-sex relationships are not to be recognized or celebrated by the church.
Francis has generally been viewed as a more liberal-leaning pope who is more open to reaching out to Catholics who identify as LGBTQ. In 2013, when he was asked about homosexuality, Francis pushed for the inclusion of gay people in society and within the Church, famously saying: “Who am I to judge?”
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he favored granting legal protections to same-sex couples as an alternative to endorsing gay marriage. At the same time, he has been unwavering on opposition to same-sex marriage, issuing a decree in 2021 noting that the church cannot bless same-sex unions because “God cannot bless sin,” reports The Washington Post.
The issue of LGBTQ acceptance in the Catholic Church is likely to be debated later this year during an extraordinary church-wide assembly that the pope is convening in October. Conservatives within the church fear that the assembly will open the door to undermining some of the church’s long-held moral positions on various social issues.
DignityUSA, the world’s oldest pro-LGBTQ Catholic group, celebrated Francis’s remarks to the AP.
“Since the Vatican led the opposition to a 2010 United Nations proposal to decriminalize homosexuality DignityUSA has repeatedly challenged our church leaders to reverse this stance,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement, noting the group’s past activism encouraging Catholic leaders to be more welcoming toward the LGBTQ community.
Duddy-Burke said Francis’s most recent comments have the potential to impact the actions of leaders who are poised to repeal laws criminalizing LGBTQ identity. She also reiterated a call for bishops who currently support such laws to reverse their position.
“World leaders and legislators in many, many countries pay attention to what Catholic officials say,” Duddy-Burke noted. “The Vatican’s support of criminalizing homosexuality has made life very dangerous for countless gay people in countries on nearly every continent. Shifting the stance and pushing for an end to making Queer identity illegal will make life safer for many people around the world.”
The LGBTQ media advocacy organization GLAAD praised the pope’s remarks, calling them “historic.”
“LGBTQ people deserve to live in a world without violence and condemnation, and more kindness and understanding,” GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement echoing Francis’s sentiments. “Today’s statements from Pope Francis are a game changer in the fight to decriminalize LGBTQ people and also illustrate the work that needs to be done with religious leaders to finally show that being LGBTQ is not a sin.
“Other influential voices in faith, government, business, sports, and entertainment should similarly speak out on outdated laws that criminalize the lives and relationships of LGBTQ people and that negatively impact travel and business in these countries,” Ellis added.
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