Pope Francis says homosexuality is not a crime in a new interview

Pope Francis called homosexuality laws “unjust,” saying God loves all his children exactly as they are, and calling on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.

Being gay is not a crimeFrancis said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Francis acknowledged that some Catholic bishops around the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to the problem as “sin”. But he attributed such attitudes to cultural background, and he stated that bishops in particular must undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of all human beings.

These bishops must undergo a conversion process,” he said, adding that they must show “tenderness, please, that God has for each of us.”

Francis’ remarks are the first by a pope on such legislation, but they are consistent with his overall approach to the LGBTQ community and his belief that the Catholic Church should welcome all people without discrimination.

According to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws, 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalize same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which may or may carry the death penalty. According to experts, even when laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

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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Gay rights activists say the outdated laws are being used to harass gays, and they point to new legislation such as Florida’s “Don’t say gay” law, which bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence of an ongoing effort to marginalize LGBTQ people.

The UN has repeatedly called for an end to laws that outright criminalize homosexuality, arguing that they violate the right 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 “unfair“, and said Catholic Church can and should work to end them. “It has to do this. “It has to do this,” he said.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, homosexuals should be welcomed and respected and should not be 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 told The Associated Press at the Vatican hotel where he is staying.

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Francis’ remarks come as he prepares to travel to Africa, where similar laws exist as they do in the Middle East. Many are from the British colonial era or are influenced by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops strongly supported them as consistent with Vatican teaching, while others called for their repeal as a violation of basic human dignity.

During a meeting with human rights groups researching the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies” in 2019, Francis was expected to issue a statement opposing homosexual criminalization.

In the end, the Pope did not meet with the groups after the audiences’ message was leaked. Instead, Vatican No. 2 did so, affirming “the dignity of every human being and the prohibition of all forms of violence.”

There was no indication that Francis was speaking out against such laws now, because his more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, died recently. The subject had never been raised in an interview before, but Francis responded eagerly, citing statistics on the number of countries where homosexuality is illegal.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis stated that a distinction must be made between a crime and a sin when it comes to homosexuality.

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“It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin,” he explained. “Okay, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”

“It is also a sin not to be charitable to one another,” he added.

While homosexuals must be treated with dignity, Catholic teaching holds that homosexual acts are “inherently 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 served the gay and trans community, beginning with his famous 2013 statement, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about an alleged gay priest. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he advocated legal protection for same-sex couples rather than endorsing same-sex marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.

Despite such outreach, the Catholic LGBTQ community chastised Francis for a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s doctrinal office that said the church cannot bless same-sex unions.

In 2008, the Vatican refused to sign a UN declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, arguing that the text went beyond its original scope. The Vatican then called on countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against homosexuals and to abolish sanctions against them.

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