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Pope Francis: Criminalization laws are ‘unjust’

Pontiff told AP that homosexuality is not a crime

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Pope Francis (Bigstock photo)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Tuesday said homosexuality is not a crime and laws that criminalize it are “unjust.”

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Francis told the Associated Press during an exclusive interview.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in nearly 70 countries around the world, and Francis acknowledged some Catholic bishops support criminalization laws and other statutes that discriminate against LGBTQ+ and intersex people. The Associated Press notes Francis said cultural backgrounds contribute to these attitudes, and stressed “bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.”

“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” said Francis. “[They should apply] tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Francis’ comments are the latest indication of how the Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since he assumed the papacy in 2013.

Francis — who vehemently opposed a marriage equality bill in his native Argentina before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it into law in 2010 — a decade later publicly backed civil unions for same-sex couples.

Francis in 2013 said gay men and lesbians should not be marginalized. The pontiff three years later said the Roman Catholic Church should “ask forgiveness” from gay people over the way it has treated them. Francis in 2017 compared politicians who use hate speech against LGBTQ and intersex people and other minority groups to Adolf Hitler.

The Vatican in 2020 gave money to a group of Transgender sex workers in Italy who were struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic. Francis in 2021 named Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man who is a survivor of clergy sex abuse, to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.

Francis last year during several of his weekly papal audiences met with Trans people who were living at a Rome church. 

Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity remain unchanged despite these overtures. The Associated Press reported that Francis referred to LGBTQ+ and intersex issues within the context of “sin.”

“Pope Francis denounced laws in nearly 70 countries that criminalize LGBTQ people and called on the Roman Catholic Church to take an active role in repealing those laws,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement. “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. Other influential voices in faith, government, business, sports and entertainment should now similarly speak out on outdated laws that criminalize the lives and relationships of LGBTQ people and that negatively impact travel and business in these countries.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an LGBTQ+ and intersex Catholic organization, echoed Ellis.

“World leaders and legislators in many, many countries pay attention to what Catholic officials say,” said Duddy-Burke in a statement. “The Vatican’s support of criminalizing homosexuality has made life very dangerous for countless gay people in countries on nearly every continent. Shifting the stance and pushing for an end to making queer identity illegal will make life safer for many people around the world.”

Esteban Paulón, an LGBTQ+ and intersex activist in Argentina, on Wednesday said he “celebrates” Francis’ condemnation of criminalization laws that include the death penalty for consensual same-sex sexual relations. Paulón also agreed with Francis’ assertion that Catholic bishops support these statutes, but added the pontiff’s comments are “contradictory” because they don’t change Vatican doctrine.

“The don’t have any consequences because (the church) continues to consider us sinners,” said Paulón. “It does not represent a concrete change in questions of doctrine and action on the part of the Vatican state.”

The Vatican

Activists around the world welcome Pope Francis’ decriminalization comments

Church teaching about homosexuality remains unchanged

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Pope Francis (Photo by palinchak via Bigstock)

CURITIBA, Brazil — Activists around the world say Pope Francis’ comments against criminalization laws are a milestone for the global LGBTQ+ and intersex rights movement.

Toni Reis, president of Aliança Nacional LGBTI+, a Brazilian LGBTQ+ and intersex advocacy group, told the Washington Blade that Francis’ comments are “a message that needs to be assimilated by at least 70 countries that still criminalize homosexuality in some way, including 11 countries in which the death penalty can be applied.”

Reis and his husband, David Harrad, in 2017 baptized their three adopted children at a Catholic cathedral in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil. Reis later received a letter on official Vatican letterhead that said Francis “wishes you happiness, invoking for your family the abudance of divine graces in order to live steadfastly and faithfully as good children of God and of the church.”

“We are unable to find in the recorded words of Jesus Christ, on whom the Christian faith is founded, any reference to homosexuality as a sin,” Reis told the Blade. “There is no longer room for deliberately decontextualized interpretations of the Old Testament and the books of certain Apostles in this sense.”

Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The pontiff acknowledged some Catholic bishops support criminalization laws and other statutes that discriminate against LGBTQ+ and intersex people. Francis told the Associated Press that cultural backgrounds contribute to these attitudes, and added “bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.”

Toni Reis, second from left, with his children after their baptism at a Roman Catholic cathedral in Curitiba, Brazil, on April 23, 2017. Reis has received a letter in which Pope Francis congratulated him and his husband, David Harrad, for baptizing their three adopted children. (Photo courtesy of Toni Reis)

Chantale Wong, the U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank who was born in Shanghai, is the first openly lesbian American ambassador.

Wong’s aunt and uncle enrolled her in a Catholic bording school in Macau, which at the time was a Portuguese colony, after she fled China with her grandmother in 1960. Wong was baptized and given the name Chantale after St. Jane Frances de Chantale.

She later attended an all-girls Catholic high school in Guam.

“He is definitely my pope,” tweeted Wong on Jan. 25.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, who is openly gay, in a tweet thanked Francis “for your strong and clear words against the criminalization of LGBTIQ+ persons in the world.” Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues who traveled to Cambodia last month, echoed Bettel.

“Criminalization based on sexual orientation is contrary to international human rights law,” tweeted Madrigal-Borloz on Jan. 25. “I welcome this recognition by (the pope.)”

Homosexuality is the ‘real sin’

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013.

Francis — who vehemently opposed a marriage equality bill in his native Argentina before then-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it into law in 2010 — a decade later publicly backed civil unions for same-sex couples.

The pontiff in 2013 said gay men and lesbians should not be marginalized. 

Francis in 2016 later said the Roman Catholic Church should “ask forgiveness” from gay people over the way it has treated them. The pontiff in 2017 compared politicians who use hate speech against LGBTQ and intersex people and other minority groups to Adolf Hitler.

The Vatican in 2020 gave money to a group of Transgender sex workers in Italy who were struggling to survive during the coronavirus pandemic. Francis in 2021 named Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man who is a survivor of clergy sex abuse, to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.

Francis last year during several of his weekly papal audiences met with trans people who were living at a Rome church. 

Church teachings on homosexuality and gender identity remain unchanged despite these overtures. 

Francis during the Associated Press interview referred to LGBTQ+ and intersex issues within the context of “sin.” The pontiff later sought to clarify the comment.

“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,” wrote Francis in a handwritten letter he sent to the Rev. James Martin, editor of Outreach, a website for LGBTQ+ and intersex Catholics, on Jan. 27.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, during an interview with the Blade acknowledged Francis “is giving a message that criminalization of the LGBTQ+ community must be fought.” Serrano added, however, the pontiff’s comments do not change church teachings.

“There is no change in dogma, there is no change in doctrine and nothing has changed in the catechism of the Catholic Church. Everything remains the same,” Serrano told the Blade. “As long as all that remains the same, there is no change.”

Serrano further stressed Francis’ categorization of homosexuality as a “sin” is paradoxical.

“Homophobia: That is the real sin,” said Serrano.

Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para Todes, a Puerto Rican LGBT advocacy group, shows his tattoo that pays tribute to the LGBT Puerto Ricans who died inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., during an interview in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on July 7, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, on Tuesday noted to the Blade that he is Catholic.

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Singapore, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Botswana, Bhutan and India have decriminalized homosexuality in recent years.  

Mugisha said Sexual Minorities Uganda welcomes Francis’ statement, which he made ahead of his trip to Congo and South Sudan. (Consensual same-sex sexual activity is legal in Congo, while South Sudan continues to criminalize it.) 

“Being Catholic, I know the Catholic Church will respect the pope’s views and I hope the church in Africa starts working with us towards discrimination of homosexuality,” Mugisha told the Blade.

ILGA World Co-Secretaries General Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown in response to Francis’ comments said “such a simple statement has now the potential to initiate a much-needed change and will provide relief to millions of persons in our communities across the world.” ILGA World Executive Director Julia Ehrt, like Serrano, said Vatican doctrine towards LGBTQ and intersex people needs to change if the pontiff’s position against criminalization laws will have any meaningful impact. 

“We urge the Holy See to turn these words into concrete action,” said Ehrt. “The Catholic Church and its institutions can and should play an active role in supporting decriminalization efforts across the world and within the United Nations and multilateral fora, where demands to scrap these profoundly wrong laws have long been reiterated.”

Outright International, a New York-based global LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, in its response to Francis’ comments also noted church teachings.

“We welcome Pope Francis’ message of inclusion and acceptance,” said Outright International in a statement to the Blade. “Discrimination, persecution and marginalization are common experiences for LGBTIQ individuals and communities around the world. In some countries, many are subjected to conversion practices and its lifelong physical and emotional damages, which are often performed and sanctioned in the name of church teachings.” 

“Religious leaders have a storied history of perpetuating misconceptions about same-sex relations, promoting them as threats to society. As such, LGBTIQ people are subject to violent attacks, harassment and social stigmatization. The church’s actions have also influenced efforts to oppose the advancement of human rights for LGBTIQ people,” added Outright International. “Our hope is that the pope’s statement will foster respect, dignity and conversations that will lead to change in attitudes and lasting legal protections in this arduous journey for full equality.”

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The Vatican

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI dies

Retired pontiff resigned in 2013

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Pope Benedict XVI (Photo by hixnhix via Bigstock)

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican on Saturday announced Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI died at the age of 95.

Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said Benedict passed away at 9:34 a.m. local time (3:34 a.m. ET) at the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican.

Benedict was born Joseph Ratzinger in Marktl Am Inn in Germany’s Bavaria state on April 16, 1927.

The Associated Press notes Benedict in his memoirs acknowledged his forced enlistment in the Hitler Youth in 1941 and his desertion from the German army just before the end of World War II.

Benedict and his brother, Georg, in 1951 were ordained as priests. He became Munich’s bishop in 1977 and then-Pope Paul VI in 1980 elevated him cardinal.

Benedict assumed the papacy on April 19, 2005, after Pope John Paul II died. Benedict on Feb. 11, 2013, became the first pope to resign since Pope Gregory XII stepped down from the papacy in 1415. His successor, Pope Francis II, on Wednesday said Benedict was “very ill.”

Benedict described gay men and lesbians as ‘intrinsically disordered’

Benedict as the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith enforced the Catholic Church’s moral doctrine.

He wrote in a 1986 letter that gay men and lesbians are “intrinsically disordered.” Benedict also said in the same document that gay organizations could no longer use church property.

Benedict described marriage rights for same-sex couples as “a manipulation of nature” and categorized marriage equality efforts around the world as a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” Activists during Benedict’s papacy also criticized the Vatican’s opposition to condom use as a way to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Benedict during his papacy faced scathing criticism over his handling of clergy sex abuse in the Catholic Church. The Vatican’s finances also came under scrutiny.

“Benedict’s approach to gay and lesbian issues was clearly hindered by the fact that he did not understand the human dimension of love and relationship that characterizes same-gender couples and individuals,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based organization that ministers to LGBTQ+ and intersex Catholics, in a statement. “He relied on centuries-old, abstract philosophical and theological ideas instead of learning about more recent understandings of sexuality. Most importantly, he failed to listen to the lived experiences of real people.”  

“While clearly a man of faith seeking to act with good intentions; his resistance to engaging the lives, love and faith of actual human beings means he will be remembered as a church leader who did not listen pastorally to those the church serves,” added DeBernardo in his statement. “In contrast, Pope Francis, his successor, has called for pastoral leaders to be listeners and learners, particularly in ministry with those on the margins of church and society, such as LGBTQ+ people.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an LGBTQ+ and intersex Catholic organization, in her statement also acknowledged Benedict’s anti-LGBTQ+ legacy.

“The death of any human being is an occasion of sorrow. We pray for Pope Benedict’s soul and express our condolences to his family, friends and loved ones,” said Duddy-Burke. “However, his death also calls us to reflect honestly on his legacy. Benedict’s leadership in the church, as pope and before that as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), caused tremendous damage to LGBTQIA+ people and our loved ones. His words and writings forced our community out of Catholic churches, tore families apart, silenced our supporters and even cost lives. He refused to recognize even the most basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people. Many of us experienced the most harsh and blatant religiously justified discrimination of our lives as a result of his policies.”

The Vatican says Benedict’s body will be in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday “so the faithful can pay their respects.” His funeral is expected to take place on Jan. 5.

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The Vatican

Vatican newspaper: Pope Francis meets with trans folk sheltered in church

L’Osservatore Romano noted that the pope previously met with some of the transgender residents sheltering in the church

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Screenshot/YouTube Weekly papal audience via EWTN Europe

ROME – The Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano reported that during the Pope’s weekly audience in St. Peter’s Basilica on Wednesday, Pope Francis met with a fourth group of transgender people who are staying in a church on the outskirts of The Eternal City.

Sister Genevieve Jeanningros and the Rev. Andrea Conocchia told  L’Osservatore Romano that this was the fourth papal audience since The Blessed Immaculate Virgin community in the Torvaianica neighborhood of the Roman suburbs opened its doors to transgender people during the coronavirus pandemic.

L’Osservatore Romano noted that the pope previously met with some of the transgender residents sheltering in the church on April 27, June 22 and Aug. 3. “No one should encounter injustice or be thrown away, everyone has dignity of being a child of God,” the paper quoted Sister Jeanningros as saying.

Francis has earned praise from some members of the LBGTQ community for his outreach. When asked in 2013 about a purportedly gay priest, he replied, “Who am I to judge?” He has met individually and in groups with transgender people over the course of his pontificate the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

But he has strongly opposed “gender theory” and has not changed church teaching that holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” In 2021, he allowed publication of a Vatican document asserting that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions since “God cannot bless sin,” the AP noted.

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