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Pope Francis has made what many are calling a historic statement against laws that criminalize homosexuality.
In an interview with the Associated Press, the pope says that God loves everyone and told Catholic bishops to welcome queer people.
“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Francis told the news wire.
The pontiff still referred to homosexuality as “sin,” but criticized Catholic bishops and church leaders who were involved in pushing for the criminalization of homosexuality across the world.
He added that those sorts of sentiments stemmed from the leaders’ cultural backgrounds.
“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” Francis told the AP, saying they needed to use “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
He said that these laws are “unjust” and that the Catholic Church should work to stop them.
“It must do this. It must do this,” Francis said. “We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis added, quoting the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The news wire noted that he’s the first pope to speak in such terms about these anti-LGBTQ+ laws. It also comes ahead of his trip to several African countries — on a continent where criminalization laws are present. Those laws have roots in colonial-era policies as well as extremist interpretations of Islamic law.
While the pope’s comments about some LGBTQ+ topics have been criticized, he has been more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people — specifically LGBTQ+ Catholics — than his predecessors. He’s held meetings with LGB and trans Catholics, though the Vatican did release a decree in 2021 that the church can’t bless same-sex unions. The late Pope Benedict XVI, who retired allowing Pope Francis to ascend to the papacy, had a very anti-LGBTQ+ record in the church. He called homosexuality “immoral.”
“The issue had never been raised in an interview, but Francis willingly responded, citing even the statistics about the number of countries where homosexuality is criminalized,” the AP reports.
Almost 70 countries in the world criminalize same-sex sexual activity. Of those, 11 countries have penalties that include death.
The pope, however, did call homosexuality a sin.
He told the wire that a difference must be recognized.
It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin,” Francis said. “Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”