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Pope Francis Says Laws Punishing Gay People Are “Unjust”

Several religious leaders and commentators celebrated the statement but said the pope should go further.

Pope Francis attends a Mass for the feast of the Epiphany at St. Peter's Basilica on January 6, 2023, in Vatican City, Vatican.

In an interview published by The Associated Press on Wednesday, Pope Francis condemned countries and regional authorities that criminalize homosexuality, saying that, while the Catholic Church may still consider homosexuality a sin, governments should not involve themselves in the matter.

Pope Francis, who has expressed more tolerant viewpoints on homosexuality than any pope in history, said that laws restricting or punishing people for being gay are “unjust.”

“Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said during the interview.

The pope clarified his point through a pseudo conversation with himself.

“It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime,” Francis said. “It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

Despite Francis’s regressive claim that homosexuality is a sin, his statement was celebrated by many LGBTQ advocates.

“His historic statement should send a message to world leaders and millions of Catholics around the world: LGBTQ people deserve to live in a world without violence and condemnation, and more kindness and understanding,” GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said.

Around 67 countries or regions around the world criminalize consensual same-sex relationships. Of those places, 11 jurisdictions impose the death penalty on people who are found to be in such a relationship.

Meanwhile, several U.S. states have passed or introduced anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent months; many of these bills specifically target transgender people, restricting the sports that trans student athletes can play and requiring trans people to use restrooms that correspond with the sex they were assigned at birth. Anti-LGBTQ lawmakers have also targeted gender-affirming care, which can often be life-saving, passing and proposing legislation in a number of states that would limit such treatments for both children and adults.

Since assuming his role in 2013, Pope Francis has made numerous statements indicating that the Church should be more accepting of LGBTQ people. In 2022, he called on parents of LGBTQ children not to condemn their children for coming out, for example.

However, the Catholic Church still refuses to recognize same-sex marriages, and the Vatican issued a decree in March of last year stating that such unions cannot be blessed. Francis approved of that decree.

Many pro-LGBTQ Catholic organizations celebrated Francis’s statement but called on him to go further.

The pope needs to continue speaking out against LGBTQ criminalization, Francis DeBernardo, executive director for New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ Catholics, said in an email to Truthout. That includes saying what he said this week “when he visits South Sudan during his Africa visit” later this month, DeBernardo said, noting that the country still penalizes gay and lesbian people.

Others called on Francis to reject the idea of homosexuality being a sin, saying that such claims have fueled hatred and oppression for centuries.

“I’m delighted with the Pope’s comment and hopeful that Catholics around the world will see its wisdom. However, as long as the Pope believes that homosexuality is a sin, his plea for legal lenience will not suffice,” Amanda Udis-Kessler, a progressive religious writer and sacred music composer, said to Truthout.

Udis-Kessler called on people of faith to support LGBTQ people through their actions.

“All people of faith whose religion is truly grounded in love should work against religious heterosexism in all its forms, with this work reflected in how we vote, where we worship, where we donate our money, and how we support local LGBTQ+ communities; this is especially true in states and countries that criminalize LGBTQ+ people,” she said.