VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis condemned laws criminalizing homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.
“Being homosexual is not a crime,” Francis said during 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 in terms of “sin”. But he attributed such an attitude to cultural backgrounds, and said that bishops especially needed to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of all people.
“These bishops must have a conversion process,” he said, adding that they should “please implement an offer as God has for each one of us”.
About 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world make consensual sexual activity illegal, and 11 of them can carry the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say that even when the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigma and violence against LGBTQ people.
In the United States, more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say the antiquated laws are used to harass homosexuals, and 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. continued efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for the repeal of laws that outright criminalize homosexuality, saying they violate rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a violation of countries’ obligations under international human rights law that protection, 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 this. He has to do this,” he said.
Francis cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church saying that gay people should be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.
“We are all God’s children, and God loves us as we are and for the strength with which each one of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said, speaking to the AP in the Vatican hotel where he lives.
Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East and date from British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops strongly stood by the Vatican’s teaching that homosexual activity is a “fundamental disorder,” while others called for their abolition as a violation of basic human dignity.
In 2019, Francis was expected to issue a statement opposing the criminalization of homosexuality during a meeting with human rights groups that researched 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, which reaffirmed “the dignity of every human being and against all forms of violence.”
On Tuesday, Francis said there was a need to distinguish 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 is a sin. Fine, but let’s first distinguish between sin and crime.”
“A lack of charity to one another is also a sin,” he said.
According to Catholic teaching, although gay people must be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “fundamentally disordered”. Francis did not change that teaching, but he made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his work.
Beginning with his famous 2013 declaration, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about a priest who he says was gay, Francis went on to minister publicly several times to the gay and trans community. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he favored giving legal protections to same-sex couples in exchange for endorsing gay marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.
Despite such outreach, the LGBTQ Catholic community criticized Francis for a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s teaching office that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”
The Vatican in 2008 refused to sign a United Nations 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” which there was a problem with it. In a statement at the time, the Vatican urged countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gay people and to end penalties against them.