Pope Francis has clarified remarks he made on homosexuality and sin in an interview last week where he called for its decriminalisation worldwide.
On Tuesday he begins a six-day visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
There is no legal recognition of same-sex couples or same-sex marriage in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and homosexuality is illegal in South Sudan.
In the Associated Press (AP) interview last Wednesday he said homosexuality was “not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime. It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he said.
Asked to clarify what he meant by saying homosexuality is a sin, Pope Francis said that “I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin.”
He was replying in a letter to American Jesuit priest Fr James Martin who wrote seeking clarification following the AP interview. The priest had said that “there seems to have been some confusion about your comment, `Being gay is a sin,’ which, of course, is not part of church teaching. My feeling was that you were simply repeating what others might say hypothetically. So, do you think that simply being gay is a sin?”
Pope Francis said: “It is not the first time that I speak of homosexuality and of homosexual persons. And I wanted to clarify that it is not a crime, in order to stress that criminalisation is neither good nor just.”
He said: “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 (his italics). Of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault. As you can see, I was repeating something in general.”
Refecting on the AP interview Pope Francis said, “I should have said `It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.’ This is to speak of `the matter’ of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter, but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin. And I would tell whoever wants to criminalise homosexuality that they are wrong.”
He commented how, in an interview, “where we spoke with natural and conversational language, it is understandable that there would not be such precise definitions.”
In the AP interview Pope Francis described laws criminalising homosexuality as “unjust” and that the Catholic Church should work to put an end to such laws. “It must do this. It must do this,” he 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,” he said.
He called, in particular, on Catholic bishops who support such anti-gay laws to welcome LGBTQ+ people into the church.
“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” he said while acknowledging that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world supported laws criminalising homosexuality or discriminated against LGBTQ+ people. Such bishops, in particular, needed to undergo a process of change to recognise the dignity of everyone, he said. “These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us”.
The Human Dignity Trust group says 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalise homosexual activity while in 11 countries or jurisdictions, people can be executed for it.