Last Month Pope Francis told the Associated Press during an exclusive interview, “Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” sending global shockwaves again. “It’s not a crime,” the pontiff stated. “Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”
The pontiff’s statement helps and hurts the LGBTQ community.
The LGBTQ community worldwide is constantly under attack. Pope Francis is a global influencer. He alone can create a movement to decriminalize homosexuality.
Nearly 70 countries have criminalized their LGBTQ populations, with the death penalty in 11 of them. Last year in the U.S., over 300 anti-LGBTQ legislative bills in 28 states were presented. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill was signed into law.
Many LGBTQ organizations and Catholics have applauded the pontiff’s statement. Some see Francis’s pronouncement as a softer and more humane attempt to mitigate harassment, stigma, violence, and in some cases death our community has experienced.
“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,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the U.S.-based advocacy group GLAAD told the press.
Francis correctly states that his “bishops, in particular, need to undergo a process of change to recognize the dignity of everyone.” In 2008, the Vatican declined to sign a U.N. declaration to decriminalize homosexuality. However, we have seen throughout Francis’s papacy that his pronouncements don’t alter Church teachings, making him look like a church bureaucrat, a flip-flopper, or, at worst, a titular head.
For example, in 2020, the Vatican walked back Francis’s vocal support for same-sex unions. In October 2020, while being interviewed about his life for the documentary Francesco, Francis fully endorsed same-sex civil unions. Again, setting off global shock waves.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” the pontiff said in the film by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky. “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way, they are legally covered.”
Francis’s statement was a hallelujah moment for many LGBTQ Catholics. It optimistically suggested a game-changer — having dogma-transforming ramifications — for the church in this 21st century despite conservatives and traditionalist priests still hell-bent on continuing on the anti-modernity track of his now-deceased predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
The Vatican stepped in, making public its terse statement, “Nothing to see here, Secretariat of State argues, saying no change in view of homosexuality.”
Another example was in 2021. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, issued a formal statement instructing its priests not to offer blessings to same-sex couples. The church’s reason: God cannot bless sin. To the shock of LGBTQ Catholics and allies globally, Pope Francis approved the decree. His approval of the decree was a betrayal despite the many liberal-leaning LGBTQ optimistic pronouncements heard during his papacy.
For instance, I recall Pope Francis’s remarks while flying home after a weeklong visit to Brazil in 2013, responding to a question about a possible “gay lobby” in the Vatican. His answer set off global shock waves. “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby,” he said. “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” The pontiff’s public statement was then the most LGBTQ affirming remark the world had ever heard from the Catholic Church until his recent comment that “homosexuality is not a crime.”
But Francis hurts the global LGBTQ community by calling homosexuality a sin.
“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,” Francis stated in a written response to Outreach editor James Martin, S.J.
The pontiff has been in office just a month shy of a decade. His seemingly affirming statements during his tenure have not changed church teachings on homosexuality or same-sex unions.
I do hope some countries heed Francis’s advice and stop criminalizing homosexuality. However, Francis stating that “homosexuality is a sin” leaves in place his characterization and the church’s belief of us as being “intrinsically disordered” and contrary to natural law.
Being LGBTQ is not a crime. Being LGBTQ is not a sin. However, the church’s stance about us is a sin upon itself, and a crime against humanity.