Los Angeles Times

‘Being homosexual isn’t a crime,’ pope declares

- By Nicole Winfield Winfield writes for the Associated Press.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis criticized laws that criminaliz­e homosexual­ity as “unjust,” saying God loves all of his children just as they are and called on Roman Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.

“Being homosexual isn’t 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 LGBTQ people, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin.” But he attributed such attitudes to cultural background­s, and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Francis’ comments, which were hailed by gay rights advocates as a milestone, are the first uttered by a pope about such laws. But they are also consistent with his overall approach to LGBTQ people and belief that the Catholic Church should welcome everyone and not discrimina­te.

Some 67 countries or jurisdicti­ons worldwide criminaliz­e consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, 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 U.S., more than a dozen states still have antisodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitu­tional. Gay rights advocates say the antiquated laws are used to justify harassment, and point to new legislatio­n, such as the “Don’t say gay” law in Florida, which forbids instructio­n on sexual orientatio­n and gender identity in kindergart­en through third grade, as evidence of continued efforts to marginaliz­e LGBTQ people.

The United Nations has called for an end to laws criminaliz­ing homosexual­ity outright, saying they violate rights to privacy and freedom from discrimina­tion and are a breach of countries’ obligation­s 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 put an end to them. “It must do this. It must do this,” he said.

Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying gay people must 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 strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said, speaking to the AP in the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Francis’ remarks come ahead of a trip to Africa, where such laws are common, as they are in the Middle East. Many date from British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly upheld them as consistent with Vatican teaching, and others have called for them to be overturned as a violation of basic human dignity.

In 2019, Francis had been expected to issue a statement opposing criminaliz­ation of homosexual­ity during a meeting with human rights groups that conducted research into the effects of such laws and socalled “conversion therapies.”

In the end, after word of the audience leaked, the pope didn’t meet with the groups. Instead, the Vatican’s No. 2 official did and reaffirmed “the dignity of every human person and against every form of violence.”

On Tuesday, Francis said there needed to be a distinctio­n between a crime and a sin with regard to homosexual­ity. Church teaching holds that homosexual acts are sinful, or “intrinsica­lly disordered,” but that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect.

Bantering with himself, Francis articulate­d the position: “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguis­h between a sin and a crime.”

“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he added.

One of the cardinals recently appointed by the pope — Robert McElroy, the bishop of San Diego — is among those Catholics who would like the church to go further, and fully welcome LGBTQ people into the church even if they are sexually active.

“It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a profound and visceral animus toward members of the L.G.B.T. communitie­s,” McElroy wrote Tuesday in the Jesuit magazine America. “The church’s primary witness in the face of this bigotry must be one of embrace rather than distance or condemnati­on.”

 ?? Andrew Medichini AP ?? FRANCIS’ comments were hailed by gay rights advocates as a milestone.
Andrew Medichini AP FRANCIS’ comments were hailed by gay rights advocates as a milestone.

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