VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has blasted laws criminalizing homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children as they are and calling on law-abiding Catholic bishops 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 in terms of “sin.” But he attributed such attitudes to the cultural context and said bishops in particular needed to go through a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.
“These bishops must have a conversion process,” he said, adding that they should use “tenderness, please, as God has for each of us.”
Francis’ comments are the first by a pope on such laws, but are consistent with his general approach to the LGBTQ community and his belief that the Catholic Church should welcome all and not discriminate.
Some 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which are punishable or punishable by death, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say that even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.
In the United States, more than a dozen states still have laws against sodomy, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that declared them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say outdated laws are being used to harass gays and point to new legislation such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, which bans education about sexual orientation and gender identity from “kindergarten through grade third, as a test”. of continued efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws criminalizing homosexuality, saying they violate rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a violation of countries’ obligations under international law to protect human rights regardless of their sexual orientation. or gender identity.
Declaring such laws “unjust”, Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to end them. “They have to. They have to do it,” he said.
Francis cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church as saying that homosexuals should be welcomed and respected and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.
“We are all children of God and God loves us as we are and for the power that each one of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said, speaking on PA in the Vatican hotel where he lives.
Francis’ remarks precede a trip to Africa, where such laws are as common as they are in the Middle East. Many date back to the British colonial era or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly supported them as consistent with Vatican teaching, while others have called for their revocation as a violation of basic human dignity.
In 2019, Francis was expected to make a statement against the criminalization of homosexuality during a meeting with human rights groups that have conducted research on the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies”.
Ultimately, after news of the audience emerged, the pope did not meet with the groups. Instead Vatican no. 2 made and reaffirmed “the dignity of every human person and against all forms of violence”.
There was no indication that Francis was talking about such laws now, as his more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had recently died. The question had never been raised in an interview, but Francis willingly answered, citing statistics on the number of countries where homosexuality is criminalized.
On Tuesday, Francis said there must be a distinction between a crime and a sin when it comes to homosexuality.
“It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a shame,” he said. “Okay, but first let’s distinguish between sin and crime.”
“It is also a shame not to be uncharitable to one another,” he added.
Catholic teaching holds that while homosexuals should be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “inherently disordered”. Francis has not changed this teaching, but has made outreach to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his pontificate.
Beginning with his famous statement in 2013, “Who am I to judge?” — when asked about an alleged gay man — Francis continued to repeatedly and publicly serve the gay and trans community. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he favored legal protection for same-sex couples as an alternative to endorsing same-sex marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.
Despite this intervention, Francis has come under fire from the LGBTQ Catholic community over a 2021 decree by the Vatican’s doctrinal office that said the church cannot bless same-sex unions.
In 2008, the Vatican refused to sign a United Nations declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, complaining that the text had outlived its original purpose. In a statement at the time, the Vatican called on countries to avoid “unfair discrimination” against homosexuals and end punishments against them.
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