Pope Francis criticized laws criminalizing homosexuality as “unjust”, saying God to love all her children as they are and as they are called to be Catholic bishops who support laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.

“Being gay is not a crime,” Francis said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press.

Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to the issue as a “sin.” But he attributed this attitude to cultural backgrounds and said 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 does to each one of us.”

Some 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalize consensual same-sex sex, 11 of which can or do carry the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to repeal such laws. Experts say that even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

In the US, more than a dozen states still have anti-Sademia laws in place despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that found them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say outdated laws are being used to persecute homosexuals, and point to new legislation like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence. ongoing efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.

The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws that criminalize homosexuality, saying they violate the right to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a violation of countries’ obligations under international law to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Declaring such laws “unjust”, Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to end them. “He has to do it. It should do it,” he said.

Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says gay people should be welcomed and respected, and not marginalized or discriminated against.

“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength with which each of us fights for our dignity,” said Francis, addressing AP in the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East and originate from British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops strongly supported them as consistent with Vatican teaching, which considers homosexual activity an “internal disorder,” while others called for their repeal as a violation of basic human dignity.

In 2019, Francis was expected to make a statement against the criminalization of homosexuality while meeting with rights groups that have been researching the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”

In the end, the Pope did not meet with the groups, who instead met with Vatican No. 2, who affirmed “the dignity of every human person and against any form of violence.”

On Tuesday, Francis said that it is necessary to distinguish between a crime and a sin when it comes to homosexuality.

“Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said. – This is not a crime. Yes, but it is a sin. OK, but first let’s distinguish sin from crime.’

“A lack of mercy towards one another is also a sin,” he added.

Catholic teaching states that while gay people should be treated with respect, homosexual relationships are “internal violations.” Francis has not changed this teaching, but he has made communication with the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.

Starting with his famous 2013 declaration, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about the alleged gay priest, Francis continued to repeatedly and publicly minister to the gay and trans community. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he advocated providing legal protection to same-sex couples as an alternative to supporting gay marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.

Despite this advocacy, the Catholic LGBTQ community has criticized Francis for a 2021 ruling by the Vatican’s doctrinal office that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”

In 2008, the Vatican refused to sign a UN declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, complaining that the text went beyond its original scope and also included language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” that it found problematic. In a statement at the time, the Vatican called on countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gays and to stop punishing them.

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