Pope Francis Describes Criminalizing LGBTQ+ People as a “Sin” and “Injustice”

Pope Francis during the plane interview, returning from South Sudan

Pope Francis has re-affirmed in clear terms his recent denouncement of laws that criminalize being LGBTQ+, joined this time by leaders of two other Christian denominations.

The pope made the comments during his latest in-flight press conference while returning yesterday from an apostolic visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Francis was asked by a journalist what he would say to families and to clergy in the two countries who reject LGBTQ+ people on religious grounds. The pope replied by citing his previous in-flight comments on homosexuality, including the famous “Who am I to judge?” moment, before continuing, per Vatican News:

“And then recently I said something, I don’t really remember my exact words, in the interview with the Associated Press. The criminalization of homosexuality is an issue that must not be allowed to pass by. It is estimated that, more or less, fifty countries, in one way or another, promote this kind of criminalization – they tell me more, but let’s say at least fifty – and some of these – I think it’s ten, even foresee the death penalty [for homosexual persons]. This is not right, people with homosexual tendencies are children of God, God loves them, God accompanies them. It is true that some are in this state because of various unwanted situations, but to condemn such people is a sin; to criminalize people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice. I am not talking about groups, but about people. Some say: they join in groups that generate noise. I am talking about people; lobbies are something different. I am talking about people. And I believe the Catechism of the Catholic Church says they should not be marginalized. This point, I believe, is clear.”

The pope was joined in the press conference by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Anglican Communion, and Reverend Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the Church of Scotland, who both affirmed Francis’ words. Welby acknowledged the controversy over LGBTQ+ issues in his own church, adding:

“I entirely agree with every word he said there. The criminalization – the Church of England, the Anglican Communion – has passed resolutions at two Lambeth conferences against criminalization, but it has not really changed many people’s mind. Over the next four days in the General Synod of the Church of England, this is our main topic of discussion, and I shall certainly quote the Holy Father. He said it beautifully and accurately.”

Greenshields commented that “nowhere in my reading of the four Gospels where I see Jesus turning anyone away.”

Pope Francis’ in-flight remarks come just over a week after he made history by publicly denouncing anti-LGBTQ+ criminalization laws, saying “being homosexual is not a crime.” However, in the interim, questions were raised about the pope’s use of the word “sin” in connection to homosexuality. Francis responded to an inquiry from Fr. James Martin, SJ, which included the following:

“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin. Of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault. . .I would tell whoever wants to criminalize homosexuality that they are wrong.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented on Pope Francis’ latest comments regarding criminalization laws:

The united statement opposing the criminalization of LGBTQ+ people by Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby, and Moderator Greenfields provides a much needed moral voice to protect vulnerable people in the 67+ nations that outlaw LGBTQ+ identities. Such people in these nations have been forced to live in fear and shame, and are prone to routine and sometimes fatal violence, often at the hands of the police and other government officials.

“New Ways Ministry is particularly proud of Pope Francis, whose initial statement opposing such laws last month, while welcome, was somewhat clouded by ambiguous language and forms of discourse. This more comprehensive statement at the end of his apostolic journey which included South Sudan, where being LGBTQ+ remains illegal, gives a clearer picture of how the pontiff understands church teaching on the issue of anti-LGBTQ+ criminalization.

“Coming as a statement supported by the heads of two other denominations shows how integrally connected the human rights of LGBTQ+ people are to the Christian gospel. We are proud that Pope Francis has shown that his original statement was not just an off-the-cuff remark. We hope ending discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people will continue to be a part of his social agenda.”

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 6, 2023

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