The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, regarding Pope Francis’ declaration that homosexuality should not be criminalized.
New Ways Ministry rejoices because of Pope Francis’ declaration that homosexuality should not be criminalized, a statement which millions of Catholics have long called for from church leaders. This call for decriminalization will help save lives and promote respect for LGBTQ+ people, particularly in areas where law or social norms make them victims of fear, hatred, violence, and death.
The pope is reminding the church that the way people treat one another in the social world is of much greater moral importance that what people may possibly do in the privacy of a bedroom.
Most important, the pope highlights that being LGBTQ+ is not sinful and criminal, but harming one’s neighbor is most certainly both. That simple principle is a bedrock of Catholic teaching.
Too many church leaders have often ignored this principle and refused to teach it. The hierarchy’s silence has helped to perpetuate a culture of draconian laws, rampant disrespect, violent rhetoric, and brutal and often fatal physical attacks against LGBTQ+ people.
It is shameful that in some nations where criminalization exists or has been proposed, Catholic bishops and other leaders have been in the forefront of supporting such abhorrent measures. The pope’s statement will help end this tragic record of church leaders’ complicity with the scourge of criminalization.
The pope’s statement highlights the Catholic value of protecting human dignity which too many church leaders have refused to apply to the oppressive social situations of LGBTQ+ people around the world, including in the U.S. Nothing Pope Francis said contradicts church teaching. Indeed, his words are rooted in that teaching.
In the U.S., and in many nations, Catholics in the pews have been calling on the pope and other church leaders to condemn criminalization and violence. In 2014, New Ways Ministry instituted the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, calling on supporters to send tweets and messages to urge Pope Francis to make a statement against criminalization laws. When the pope visited Uganda, Kenya, and the Central African Republic in 2015, many African advocates for LGBTQ+ people called on him to make an anti-criminalization statement, but he did not. In 2021, over 750 church leaders and scholars endorsed a public theological statement calling on Catholics to put an end to anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.
We hope Pope Francis will speak this message when he visits South Sudan, which criminalizes homosexuality, during his apostolic journey, January 31-February 5, 2023
As anti-LGBTQ+ movements around the U.S. and the globe gain strength, Pope Francis’ statement is greatly needed. We hope that more church leaders will be emboldened to make similar statements, particularly when initiatives which damage the human dignity and the lives of LGBTQ+ people arise in their regions and nations.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 25, 2023