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‘Being homosexual is not a crime’: Pope denounces anti-gay laws

Pope Francis has said laws that criminalise homosexuality were “unjust”.

“Being homosexual is not a crime,” Pope Francis told the Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday at Santa Marta, the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Pope Francis said that God loves all his children, and the Roman Catholic Church should do more to end laws that criminalise homosexuality.

The 86-year-old said that bishops should welcome LGBTQ people into the fold.

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

Pope Francis called on all countries that criminalise homosexuality to undo such laws.

“That’s wrong. It’s very wrong. I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against,” he said.

During the 75-minute interview, Pope Francis appeared to imagine a dialogue between two people with conflicting views on homosexuality.

“[Homosexuality] is a sin,” he said.

He then responded: “Well, yes, but let’s make the distinction first between sin and crime.

“But it’s also a sin to lack charity with one another, so what about that?”

Asked whether the church should work toward repealing the laws, Francis said, “Yes, yes, they have to do it, they have to do it.”

According to The Human Dignity Trust, a group that focuses on eliminating the criminalisation of homosexuality around the world, about 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalise consensual, same-sex sexual activity.

Eleven of these countries can or do impose the death penalty.

Pope Francis’ comments come ahead of a trip to South Sudan – one of the countries that criminalises homosexuality – in early February.

Public response

Pope Francis’ comments are the first time that a pope has expressed such views.

And although Pope Francis has not changed church teachings, he has made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.

“His historic statement should send a message to world leaders and millions of Catholics around the world: LGBTQ people deserve to live in a world without violence and condemnation, and more kindness and understanding,” CEO of the US-based advocacy group GLAAD, Sarah Kate Ellis said.

In a Twitter thread viewed over three million times by Thursday morning, Jesuit priest and editor of America Magazine James Martin said Pope Francis’ comments were an “immense step forward”.

“This is a historic step forward for the church, and the Pope’s clear statement today will help to lessen violence against LGBTQ people and save lives.”

New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBTQ advocacy group, said the church hierarchy’s silence on such laws until now had devastating effects, perpetuating such policies and fuelling violent rhetoric against LGBTQ people.

“The Pope is reminding the church that the way people treat one another in the social world is of much greater moral importance than what people may possibly do in the privacy of a bedroom,” the group’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo said.

Although he has reached out to the LGBTQ community during his time as pope, Pope Francis has also been criticised by the Catholic gay community for a 2021 Vatican decree that said the church would not bless same-sex unions.

In 2008, the Vatican declined to sign onto a UN declaration calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, saying that the text went beyond the original scope.

Schism in church ranks

In the interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis had a message for the growing chorus of attacks from conservative critics in the church: “Do it to my face.”

According to commentators, there has been a swell of conservative opposition to his insistence on making the church a more welcoming and inclusive place.

Some believe the Pope might be freer to manoeuvre following Pope Benedict’s death in late December.

Others say that the peaceful days of his papacy are over and that Pope Francis is now more exposed to critics.

“You prefer that they don’t criticise, for the sake of tranquillity,” Pope Francis said.

“But I prefer that they do it because that means there’s freedom to speak.”

The latest salvo in a wave of attacks came from conservative stalwart the late Cardinal George Pell.

Cardinal Pell authored a devastating memorandum circulated last year claiming Pope Francis was a “disaster” and a “catastrophe”.

Cardinal Pell was revealed as the author of the memorandum after his death on January 10.

Earlier this month the conservative magazine The Spectator published what it said was a signed article Cardinal Pell wrote in the days before he died.

In the article, Cardinal Pell described as a “toxic nightmare” the Pope’s two-year canvassing of the Catholic laity about issues such as church teaching on sexuality and the role of women.

Pope Francis seemed unperturbed by Cardinal Pell’s criticisms, singing his praises for his “right-hand man”.

“Even though they say he criticised me, fine, he has the right. Criticism is a human right,” Pope Francis said. But he added: “He was a great guy. Great.”

-with wires

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