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Pope Francis has urged Catholic bishops who support laws criminalising homosexuality to welcome LGBTQ individuals into the church, calling such laws “unjust.”
On Tuesday, Francis told The Associated Press, “being homosexual isn’t a crime.”
Pope Francis noted that certain Catholic bishops worldwide advocate for legislation that criminalises homosexuality or discriminates against the LGBTQ population.
He explained that these views stem from people’s upbringings and that the church, and bishops in particular, must reform to respect the worth of all people.
He urged the bishops to show “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us,” saying, “These bishops have to have a process of conversion.”
According to The Human Dignity Trust, which campaigns to abolish such laws, 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide outlaw consenting same-sex sexual behaviour, and 11 can or do inflict the death penalty.
Many experts believe these laws contribute to the harassment, stigma, and violence experienced by the LGBTQ community, even in places where they are not implemented.
Although the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2003 that anti-sodomy statutes were unconstitutional, more than a dozen states still retain them on the books.
Gay rights activists claim that old laws are being used to persecute gays. They refer to recent legislation, such as Florida’s “Don’t mention gay” law, which prohibits teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity to students in grades K-3.
The United Nations has repeatedly demanded an end to laws that criminalise homosexuality on the grounds that they violate people’s right to privacy and freedom from discrimination and that they also go against a country’s obligation under international law to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Francis called such legislation “unjust,” adding that the Catholic Church had the power to help abolish it. “It must do this. It must do this,” he said.
Francis used the Catholic Church’s Catechism to argue that homosexuals deserve acceptance and protection against prejudice.
To the Associated Press, Francis remarked, “We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us battles for our dignity.” Francis lives in a hotel owned by the Vatican.
Such statutes typically originate from British colonial times or are influenced by Islamic law and are widely used in Africa and the Middle East. While some Catholic bishops have vehemently defended them as being in line with Vatican teaching that views gay behaviour as “intrinsically disordered,” others have asked for them to be overturned as a violation of basic human dignity.
It was anticipated Pope Francis would publish a statement denouncing the criminalisation of homosexuality in 2019 after meeting with human rights organisations that study the effects of such legislation and so-called “conversion therapies.”
The organisations ultimately met with the Vatican’s No. 2 official, who reiterated “the dignity of every human person and against every form of violence” after the pope declined to meet with them.
Francis said on Tuesday that homosexuality should be treated like a sin rather than a criminal.
A gay orientation “is not a crime,” he declared. “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”
And, “it’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he continued.
While homosexuals deserve our respect, we must remember that Catholic teaching views homosexual actions as “intrinsically disordered.” While Francis has not reversed this teaching, he has made it a priority in his pontificate to reach out to the LGBTQ community.
From his now-famous response to a question about a reportedly gay priest in 2013—”Who am I to judge?”—Francis has gone on to publicly and consistently minister to the gay and trans communities.
Instead of supporting gay marriage, which is contrary to Catholic teaching, he advocated for same-sex couples to be given legal protections.
Despite this outreach, Francis has been criticised by members of the Catholic LGBTQ community over a decree from the Vatican’s theology office in 2021 that states the church cannot bless same-sex couples “since God cannot bless sin.”
The Vatican objected to the inclusion of terminology like “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in a 2008 United Nations declaration that advocated for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
At the time, the Vatican issued a statement calling for an end to “unjust discrimination” and punishments for LGBT people in all countries.