AP interview: Pope Francis: Homosexuality is not a crime

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are and calling 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 on 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 LGBT community, and he himself referred to the issue as a “sin.” But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds and said bishops in particular needed to go through a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.

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

About 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do 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, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

In the US, more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws in place despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring 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 Gay rights advocates say outdated laws are being used to harass gays and point to new legislation such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” lawwhich bans the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence of continued efforts to marginalize LGBTQ people.

The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws criminalizing homosexuality directly, saying they violate the right to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a violation of states’ obligations under international law 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 end them. “He has to do this. He has to do that,” 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 children of God and God loves us as we are and for the strength with which each one of us fights for our dignity,” Francis told the AP at the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East and date back to British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops strongly supported them as compatible with Vatican teaching, which considers homosexual activity “inherently disordered”, while others called for their repeal 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 have conducted research on the effects of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”

In the end, the pope did not meet with the groups, but instead with Vatican No. 2, who affirmed “the dignity of every human person and against every form of violence.”

On Tuesday, Francis said there should be a difference between a crime and a sin regarding homosexuality.

“Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said. “This is not a crime. Yes, but it is a sin. OK, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.

“It is also a sin to have no mercy towards one another,” he added.

Catholic teaching holds that while gay people should be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “inwardly disordered.” Francis has not changed this teaching, but he has made outreach to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.

Starting with his famous 2013 declaration, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about an alleged gay priest, Francis went on to repeatedly and publicly minister to the gay and trans community. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he supports giving legal protection to same-sex couples as an alternative to endorsing gay marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.

Despite such outreach, Francis has been criticized by the Catholic LGBTQ community for a 2021 decree by the Vatican’s Office of Doctrine that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”

The Vatican in 2008 refused to sign a UN declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, complaining that the text went beyond the original scope and also included language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” that it considered problematic. In a statement at the time, the Vatican urged countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gays and to end punishments against them.

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