Out in the World: Pope Francis calls for decriminalization of homosexuality

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday January 27, 2023
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Pope Francis spoke about decriminalizing homosexuality and the Catholic Church accepting LGBTQ Catholics during an interview with the Associated Press at the Vatican January 24. Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini
Pope Francis spoke about decriminalizing homosexuality and the Catholic Church accepting LGBTQ Catholics during an interview with the Associated Press at the Vatican January 24. Photo: AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

Pope Francis this week called for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide and said "being homosexual isn't a crime."

In the exclusive interview January 24 with the Associated Press in the Vatican hotel where he lives, he clearly stated homosexuality isn't a crime but reiterated that gay sex is a "sin" according to Roman Catholic Church teaching.

Despite the church's teachings, Francis said, "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."

While he urged Catholic bishops that support anti-gay laws or discriminate against LGBTQ people in some countries around the world to revise their position to recognize everyone's dignity, he showed signs of his own struggle with the issue.

The reporter noted he was "bantering with himself" as he articulated his position to balance conflicting church teachings, such as homosexuality being "intrinsically disordered" with "charity," and separate "sin and crime."

"It's not a crime. Yes, but it's a sin. Fine, but first let's distinguish between a sin and a crime," he told the AP.

"These bishops have to have a process of conversion," the pontiff told the AP, adding that they should apply "tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us."

He concluded by describing homosexuality as "a human condition." It was Francis' predecessor, the late Pope Benedict XVI, who introduced the "intrinsically disordered" language into the church catechism.

According to Human Dignity Trust, nearly 70 countries around the world criminalize homosexuality and gender identity, and 11 impose the death penalty.

Francis' remarks come ahead of a trip to Africa, where such laws are common, AP noted.

Anti-sodomy laws are still on the books in more than a dozen states in the United States, despite the 2003 Supreme Court ruling, Lawrence v. Texas, declaring the laws unconstitutional, reported the AP. Currently, there are more than 200 anti-LGBTQ laws proposed by legislatures across the U.S., according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Francis is from Argentina, which has led the way for LGBTQ rights in South America. The country's laws protecting LGBTQ people are among some of the most progressive in the world, reported the Culture Trip.

Francis said the Catholic Church can, and should, work to end the criminalization of homosexuality. "It must do this," he said.

AP reported it was unclear if Francis was speaking about homosexuality now after the December 31 death of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The media outlet noted in 2019 Francis was expected to issue a statement about the criminalization of homosexuality during a meeting with human rights groups about so-called conversion therapy.

In the end, after word of the audience leaked, the pope didn't meet with the groups. Instead, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state and the Holy See's second-highest ranking official, did, and reaffirmed "the dignity of every human person and against every form of violence," AP reported.

While Francis has made comments indicating support for LGBTQ people in the past, he has not spoken openly about the laws. Interviewers hadn't raised the issue until now. When asked, he stated statistics about countries' anti-LGBTQ laws, and stated his position.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone, who is a hardline conservative and opposed to LGBTQ rights, was unavailable for an interview, Mary Powers, assistant director of communications and media relations at the Archdiocese of San Francisco, told the Bay Area Reporter.

Powers wrote in an email that the pope's comments were drawn from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, section 2358, in which it states, "[Those with homosexual tendencies] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."

President Joe Biden, who is a devout Catholic and a proponent of LGBTQ rights, placed queer rights at the forefront of the U.S.'s foreign policy after being sworn into office in January 2021. Biden did not respond to Francis' statements.

Reaction from LGBTQ Catholics

LGBTQ Catholic organizations praised the pope's position but also noted the devastating effect the Catholic Church's position has had globally.

DignityUSA stated that the Vatican's position "could vastly improve the lives of LGBTQIA+ people around the world," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, the LGBTQ Catholic organization's executive director, in a January 25 statement.

Duddy-Burke noted the weight the Vatican has on world leaders and lawmakers in many countries.

"The Vatican's support of criminalizing homosexuality has made life very dangerous for countless gay people in countries on nearly every continent," she stated. "Shifting the stance and pushing for an end to making queer identity illegal will make life safer for many people around the world."

New Ways Ministry, another LGBTQ Catholic organization, also praised the pope's comments. Executive Director Francis DeBernardo agreed with Duddy-Burke about the devastating effects the Vatican's position had on queer 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," DeBernardo stated in a January 25 news release.

Francis did not address gender identity or expression in his statements about decriminalizing homosexuality, reported the AP.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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