Metro Weekly

Pope Francis Uses Anti-Gay Slur, Vatican Issues Apology

The head of the Roman Catholic Church reportedly made the comments while reaffirming the church's ban on openly gay priests.

Pope Francis – Photo: Instagram

The Vatican issued an apology after Pope Francis was quoted using a vulgar, homophobic slur to refer to gay men while talking about the Catholic Church’s ban on openly gay men in the priesthood.

The pope was speaking, in Italian, about the ban during a May 20 meeting with Italian bishops, joking that there is already an air of “frociaggini” in seminaries, according to Italian gossip site Dagospia, and subsequently circulated by other Italian media. 

Italian is not Francis’s native language and the Argentine-born pope has made linguistic gaffes in the past, notes The Associated Press. The 87-year-old pontiff has a penchant for speaking informally, often employing jokes using slang and even cursing in private.

In keeping with the tradition of not revealing what the pope says in private, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni issued a statement acknowledging the controversy over the pope’s alleged comments, although he did not confirm or deny whether the head of the Roman Catholic Church had uttered the slur.

Bruni said Francis was aware of the reports. He noted that Francis, whose tenure as pope has been marked by a more conciliatory tone towards LGBTQ Catholics, has long insisted there is “room for everyone” in the Church.

“The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he extends his apologies to those who were offended by the use of a term that was reported by others,” Bruni said in a statement.

Francis reportedly made the remarks while addressing the ongoing ban on allowing openly gay men to enter seminaries and be ordained priests.

The Italian bishops conference that he was addressing recently approved a new document outlining training for Italian seminaries. The document, which hasn’t yet been published or approved by the Vatican, reportedly sought to soften the ban by potentially allowing gay men to become priests as long as they remain celibate.

Since 2005, the Vatican has refused to allow men to enter seminaries or be ordained if they “practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called gay culture.”

The church’s official stance on the inclusion of gay men in the priesthood has been criticized by some reformers within the Catholic community, who have argued that the priesthood already likely contains large amounts of gay or bisexual men.

For example, the late psychotherapist Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine monk who taught in U.S. seminaries, estimated in the early 2000s that as many as 30% of the U.S. clergy had a homosexual orientation, regardless of whether they acted upon those feelings.

The late Rev. Donald Cozzens, a seminary rector, asserted in his book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, that the U.S. priesthood was increasingly becoming a profession for closeted gay men, due to heterosexual men leaving the priesthood to marry and have families.

Current Catholic Church doctrine prohibits all priests, regardless of sexual orientation, from marrying, and requires priests to take vows of celibacy — two factors that some critics have speculated contribute to declining numbers of men willing to join the priesthood.

Despite Francis’s generally more welcoming attitude toward LGBTQ Catholics, the controversy over his alleged remarks demonstrates how official church teaching may run afoul of the practicalities of dealing with the real world.

For instance, if gay men are to be barred from marrying, and church doctrine advises all people with same-sex attraction — as well as any unmarried individuals — to remain abstinent, it seems odd to deny gay men entry into the priesthood, which would allow them to remain part of the church community while adhering to the Vatican’s preferred restrictions on sexual behavior.

Despite standing firm on the church’s condemnation of same-sex activity as sinful, Pope Francis has previously made overtures to LGBTQ Catholics, criticizing conservatives for intolerant attitudes toward LGBTQ individuals, opposing laws that criminalize homosexuality with long imprisonment or the death penalty, and even permitting priests to bless individuals who are involved in same-sex relationships, albeit in a limited capacity.

At the same time, he has opposed the solemnization and legalization of same-sex marriages, while still being open to civil unions, has lamented about homosexuality being “fashionable,” and signed off on a Vatican document asserting that pursuing gender-affirming surgery is a grave violation of human dignity.

New Ways Ministry, an organization of LGBTQ Catholics, welcomed the Vatican’s apology, even as it criticized the church’s stance on gay priests.

“Without a clarification, [the pope’s] words will be interpreted as a blanket ban on accepting any gay man to a seminary,” Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of the group, said in a statement, asking for clarification on the pontiff’s views about gay priests who remain celibate and adhere to church doctrine in their personal lives.

DignityUSA, another Catholic LGBTQ organization, called the alleged comments “shocking and hurtful.”

“We are glad that Pope Francis has apologized for using such a demeaning term,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA’s executive director, said in a statement. “We know that this was shocking and hurtful to many, especially to the innumerable gay priests who have served God’s people faithfully and well. We stand with them, and with the people who have benefited from their ministry. The truth is that the Church simply could not function without those countless gay priests, bishops and maybe even popes who currently serve and have served over the centuries.

“Unfortunately, even if intended as a joke, the Pope’s comment reveals the depth of anti-gay bias and institutional discrimination that still exist in our church. It is wrong to demean any group of people, including those of us who are LGBTQIA+. And it is wrong to continue to act as if God calls only straight, cisgender men to service in the church and the world. … People should not be excluded from ordained ministry simply due to who they are.”

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