VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis criticized laws criminalizing homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children as they are and calling on Catholic bishops who supported the law to welcome LGBTQ people into their churches.
“Homosexuality is not a crime,” Francis said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.
Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, an issue he himself called a “sin”. But he attributed the attitude to cultural context and said bishops in particular needed to go through a process of change to recognize the dignity of every human being.
“These bishops must have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should “show meekness, just as God does with each of us.”
Some 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalize consensual same-sex sex, 11 of which carry or do carry the death penalty, according to the Trust for Human Dignity, which works to end such laws. Even when laws are not enforced, they can fuel harassment, stigma and violence against LGBTQ people, experts say.
In the United States, more than a dozen states have enshrined anti-sodomy laws, although the Supreme Court declared the laws unconstitutional in a 2003 ruling.Gay rights advocates say outdated laws are being used to harass gay people, pointing to new legislation such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Lawwhich banned the teaching of sexual orientation and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 that directly criminalize homosexuality, saying they violate the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination, and violate States’ obligations under international law to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity .
Declaring the laws “unjust,” Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to end them.
“It has to do it. It has to do it,” he said.
Francis cited the Catholic Catechism as saying gay people must be welcomed and respected, not marginalized or discriminated against.
“We are all children of God, and God loves us for who we are and for the strength in each of us to fight for our dignity,” Francis told The Associated Press at the Vatican hotel where he lives.
Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East, dating back to British colonial times or inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly backed them to be consistent with the Vatican’s teaching that homosexual activity is “inherently chaotic”, while others have called for them to be overthrown as a violation of basic human dignity.
In 2019, Francis is expected to issue a statement against the criminalization of homosexuality at a meeting with human rights groups that have conducted research on the impact of such laws and so-called “conversion therapy”.
In the end, instead of meeting these groups, the Pope met with the Vatican’s No. 2, who reiterated the “dignity of every human being and the rejection of all forms of violence”.
On Tuesday, Francis said there needed to be a distinction between crime and sin when it came to homosexuality.
“Homosexuality is not a crime,” he said. “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a crime. Okay, but first let’s make a distinction between a crime and a crime.”
“Lack of kindness towards one another is also a sin,” he added.
Catholic teaching holds that while homosexuals must be respected, homosexual behavior is “essentially disorderly”. Francis has not changed that teaching, but he has made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.
Beginning with his famous 2013 manifesto “Who shall I judge?” Francis continued to repeatedly and publicly preach to the gay and trans communities when he was questioned about a priest who was allegedly gay. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he favored legal protections for same-sex couples as an alternative to supporting same-sex marriage, which is prohibited by Catholic teaching.
Despite this outreach, Francis has been criticized by the Catholic LGBTQ community for a 2021 decree by the Vatican’s doctrinal office that the church cannot bless same-sex unions “because God cannot bless sin.”
The Vatican refused to sign a UN declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2008, complaining that the text went beyond its original scope and also contained language it considered problematic about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity”. In a statement at the time, the Vatican urged countries to avoid “unjust discrimination” against gay people and to end punishment for them.