Pope Francis called homosexuality laws “unjust,” saying God loves all his children exactly as they are, and urged Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.
“Being homosexual is not a crime,” Francis said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Pope Francis acknowledged that some Catholic bishops around the world support laws that criminalise homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to the issue as “sin.” However, he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, and he stated that bishops, in particular, must undergo a process of change in order to recognise the dignity of all people.
“These bishops must go through a conversion process,” he said, adding that they must show “tenderness, please, as God has for each of us.”
According to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws, 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty. According to experts, even when laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigma, and violence against LGBTQ people.
Despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional, more than a dozen states still have them on the books. Gay rights activists say the antiquated laws are being used to harass homosexuals, and they point to new legislation, such as Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence of ongoing efforts to marginalise LGBTQ people.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws that criminalise homosexuality outright, asserting that they violate the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a violation of countries’ international legal obligations to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Francis called such laws “unjust,” and said the Catholic Church can and should work to end them. “It must do this. “It must do this,” he stated.
According to the Catholic Church’s Catechism, gay people must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalised or discriminated against.
“We are all God’s children, and God loves us for who we are and for the strength with which each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis told the Associated Press in the Vatican hotel where he is staying.
Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East, and they are either a result of British colonial rule or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly supported them, citing Vatican teaching that homosexual activity is “intrinsically disordered,” while others have called for their abolishment as a violation of basic human dignity.
In 2019, Francis was expected to issue a statement opposing homosexual criminalization during a meeting with human rights groups conducting research into the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”
Finally, the pope did not meet with the groups, instead meeting with Vatican No. 2, who reaffirmed “the dignity of every human being and opposition to all forms of violence.”
On Tuesday, Pope Francis stated that there must be a distinction between a crime and a sin when it comes to homosexuality.
“Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said. “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 sin to lack charity with one another,” he added.
“Being gay is not a crime,” he said. “It isn’t a crime. True, but it is a sin. Okay, but first let’s define the difference between a sin and a crime.”
“It’s also a sin not to be charitable to one another,” he added.
While gay people must be treated with dignity, Catholic teaching holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” Francis has not changed that teaching, but he has made outreach to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his pontificate.
Francis has repeatedly and publicly ministered to the gay and trans community, beginning with his famous 2013 declaration, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about a purportedly gay priest. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he advocated for legal protections for same-sex couples rather than approving gay marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.
Despite such outreach, the Catholic LGBTQ community chastised Francis for a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s doctrine office stating that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”
In 2008, the Vatican refused to sign a United Nations declaration calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, claiming that the text went beyond the original scope and included language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” that it found problematic. The Vatican urged countries at the time to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gay people and to abolish penalties against them.
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