VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has criticized laws criminalizing homosexuality as “unjust.”
Francis acknowledged that in some parts of the world Catholic bishops support laws that criminalize homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself spoke of “son”. But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds, saying that bishops in particular need to go through a process of change to recognize the dignity of all.
“These bishops need to go through a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should “please exercise tenderness as God has done for each of us.”
About 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say that even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigma and violence against LGBTQ people.
In the US, more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on their books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional. Gay rights advocates say the outdated laws are designed to harass homosexuals, citing new laws such as “Don’t say gay” law in Floridawhich bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity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 outright criminalize homosexuality as a violation of the right to privacy, non-discrimination and countries’ international obligations to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Francis declared such laws “unjust” and said the Catholic Church can and should work to put an end to them. “It has to do that. It has to do this,” he said.
Francis, citing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, said gay people must 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 vigor with which each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis told AP 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 affirmed them as consistent with Vatican teaching, which regards homosexual activity as “intrinsically disordered,” while others have called for it to be rescinded as a violation of basic human dignity.
In 2019, Francis was due to make a statement against the criminalization of homosexuality during a meeting with human rights groups studying the impact of such laws and so-called “conversion therapies.”
In the end, the Pope did not meet with the groups, who instead met with Vatican No. 2, which reaffirms “the dignity of every human being and against all forms of violence.”
On Tuesday, Francis said there must be a distinction between a crime and a sin when it comes to homosexuality.
“Being gay is not a crime,” he said. “It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a son. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”
“It is also a sin not to have charity with one another,” he added.
Catholic teaching states that while gay people must be treated with respect, homosexual acts are “inherently disordered.” Francis has not changed this teaching, but he has made reaching out to the LGBTQ community a hallmark of his papacy.
Start with his famous statement from 2013, “Who am I to judge?” When asked about an allegedly gay priest, Francis has repeatedly and publicly ministered to the gay and trans community. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he advocated granting legal protections to same-sex couples as an alternative to sanctioning gay marriage, which Catholic doctrine forbids.
Despite that reach, Francis has been criticized by the LGBTQ Catholic community for a 2021 Vatican Magisterium decree that said the church cannot bless same-sex partnerships “because God cannot bless a son.”
The Vatican refused to sign a UN declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2008, complaining that the text went beyond the original framework, including language about “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” which it perceived as problematic. In a statement at the time, the Vatican called on countries to avoid “unfair discrimination” against gay people and to end penalties against them.