VATICAN — Pope Francis has criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust”, saying God loves all his children as they are, and calling on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the Church.
“Being gay is not a crime,” Francis said in an exclusive 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 conversion process,” he said, adding that they must show “tenderness, please, as God does to each one of us.”
Francis’ comments are the first by a pope on such laws, but they are in line with his general approach to the LGBTQ community and his belief that the Catholic Church should welcome all, not discriminate.
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 Gay rights advocates say outdated laws are being used to persecute homosexuals, and point to new laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender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 violate countries’ obligations under international law to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of race. 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. He has to do it,” he said.
Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that gays should be welcomed and respected, and not marginalized or discriminated against.
“We are all children of God, and God loves us for who we are and for the strength with which each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said, speaking to the AP at the Vatican hotel where he lives.
Francis’ remarks were made on the eve of a trip to Africa, where such laws are widespread, as well as in the Middle East. Many date back to British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops strongly supported them as consistent with Vatican teachings, 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 human rights groups that have been researching the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapy.”
In the end, after the audience was leaked, the Pope did not meet with the groups. Instead, Vatican No. 2 did and affirmed “the dignity of every human person and against any form of violence.”
There has been no indication that Francis has spoken out about such laws now because his more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, recently died. The question was never raised in the interview, but Francis readily responded, even citing statistics on the number of countries where homosexuality is criminalized.
On Tuesday, Francis said that it is necessary to distinguish between a crime and a sin when it comes to homosexuality.
“This is not a crime. Yes, but it is a sin,” he said. – Okay, but first let’s distinguish a sin from a 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 has continued to minister repeatedly and publicly 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 says the church cannot bless same-sex unions.
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. 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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