Ahead of a visit to Africa, the Pope was questioned by AP on Tuesday January 24 about the Church’s position on the criminalization of homosexuality and homophobia.
Pope Francis, who has been fiercely challenged by his opponents lately, gave a lengthy interview to the Associated Press (AP) earlier this week. In particular, when questioned by Nicole Winfield, the renowned AP Vaticanist with whom his relations have been strained at times, the pope called homosexuality a “sin.” “Pope Francis affirms that homosexuality is ‘not a crime’ but a ‘sin’,” BFMTV headlined in a widely circulated article, as the statements were shocking. “The Pope reaffirms the teaching of the Church. If he considered it […] that the laws criminalizing homosexuality worldwide are “unfair”, he also declared that this sexual orientation is a “sin”, we can read.
According to the AP’s full transcript of the interview, which is only available in Spanish, Pope Francis’ exact words are as follows:
“We are all children of God and God wants us to fight for our dignity as we are and with the strength that we all have. Being gay is not a crime. It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Let’s start by distinguishing between sin and crime. But lack of charity is also a sin. And how are you? In other words, let’s differentiate.”
The pantomime of a believer’s reaction?
This passage was also broadcast in one of the video excerpts of the interview posted online by the AP. We can see that when the pope says, “Yes, but it is a sin,” he seems to mimic the reaction of a believer, to whom he would respond by first “distinguishing sin from crime” and questioning his own charity.
In what context were these remarks made? The Argentine Pope was asked about the criminalization of homosexuality and more broadly “discrimination against the gay and trans community”. “What is the position of the Church? What should she do since there are bishops who support these laws?” asks journalist NICole Winfield. “The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed and not excluded, accompanied when they get a place,” the Pope replies.
And as a reminder: “During my trip to Brazil and my first trip, I said this phrase that worried some people, it worried them: “If there is a person who seeks God and who is sincere, who am I, um to judge them?” The outing, which took place a few months after Francis’ election, went around the world and promised a much more open pontificate than that of his two predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. on social issues. Conversely, it drew fierce criticism from the religious right.
However, when answering questions from the American agency, the Pope does not recall that he never questioned Article 2357 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which predates his own. “Trusting the Scriptures [la Bible, ndlr] what she presents as serious depravity, tradition [la culture et la pensée de l’Eglise catholique] has always said that homosexual acts are inherently disordered. They contradict natural law.”
Continuing his response to Nicole Winfield, Pope Francis also affirms that “a family that has a son or daughter with homosexual tendencies cannot expel him, it must create a family framework so that he can live in peace”. He later returns to the laws criminalizing homosexuality, repeating: “Being gay is not a crime.” “It’s a human condition,” he adds, reprinted by AP on the church’s role in countries with homophobic laws. “Can the church help to repeal these laws?” asks the journalist. “Yes, yes, they must. What happens is that these are cultures […] and the bishops of this place – although they are good bishops – are part of these cultures. […] Even the bishop has a conversion process,” he replies, before calling for “tenderness.”
In fact, Pope Francis gives conflicting signals and has not removed a certain ambiguity regarding homosexuality throughout his pontificate. On the one hand, he is promoting a Catholic Church that he wants to be “inclusive” and not stigmatizing. The Pope himself received gay couples in the Vatican and expressed his approval of civil legislation protecting gay couples. But without supporting marriage or religious blessings. On the eve of a trip to Africa from January 31 to February 5, this time he is calling for the abolition of the laws criminalizing homosexuality. The Pope’s words carry weight, and this intervention is viewed by some as progress. But this openness goes against the teaching of the Catholic Church, which he does not question.