Los Angeles Times
‘Being homosexual isn’t a crime,’ pope declares
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.”