Pope Francis has reiterated his stance against laws that criminalize homosexuality, with backup from the heads of the Church of England and Church of Scotland.
The religious leaders made their comments Sunday in a news conference on the papal plane while flying home from South Sudan, where they were assisting in the peace process, the Associated Press reports.
The pope had said, “Homosexuality is not a crime,” in a January 24 interview with the AP. He didn’t use those exact words in the Sunday news conference, but he did said laws criminalizing homosexuality are “unjust” and that parents should not kick their gay children out.
“To condemn someone like this is a sin,” he said, according to the AP. “Criminalizing people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice. … People with homosexual tendencies are children of God. God Loves them. God accompanies them.”
The Roman Catholic Church continues to hold that acting on those “tendencies” is a sin, however, and it does not bless the marriages of same-sex couples. It also teaches that gender is fixed at birth and immutable. Still, throughout his papacy, Francis has offered conciliatory words to LGBTQ+ people and has met privately with some.
The pope was joined by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is the ceremonial leader of the Church of England and the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the Right Rev. Iain Greenshields, moderator of the Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian body.
“I wish I had spoken as eloquently and clearly as the pope. I entirely agree with every word he said,” Welby said. He said he would quote the pope’s words at the Church of England’s upcoming General Synod.
The church has approved the blessing of civil marriages of same-sex couples, but it still does not let these couples marry in its churches. There are deep divides in the Anglican Communion over LGBTQ+ rights. The Episcopal Church, which is the U.S. branch of the communion, supports same-sex marriages and allows LGBTQ+ clergy, while Anglican churches in many conservative countries do not.
The Church of Scotland is LGBTQ-welcoming and approves of same-sex marriages. “There is nowhere in my reading of the four Gospels where I see Jesus turning anyone away,” Greenshields said on the plane. “There is nowhere in the four Gospels where I see anything other than Jesus expressing love to whomever he meets. And as Christians, that is the only expression that we can possibly give to any human being, in any circumstance.”
Pope Francis may have tempered his words somewhat because of backlash from South Sudan, the AP notes. “If he is coming here and he tells us that marriage of the same sex, homosexuality, is legal, we will say no,” Michael Makuei Lueth, South Sudan’s information minister, said before the pope’s visit.
South Sudan, which is largely Christian, broke off from Sudan, which is primarily Muslim, in 2011. South Sudan has been involved in civil war for much of its existence, and the religious leaders’ trip was focused on ending the violence. The nation is also one of 67 around the world that criminalize homosexuality.
New Ways Ministry, which works for LGBTQ+ equality within the Catholic Church, praised the comments by the pope and his companions.
“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,” Executive Director Francis DeBernardo said in a press release. “This more formal 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 joint statement with the head 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.”