Pope Francis says that the Catholic Church and Christians in general should express their regret for what they have done to gay people.
The pontiff made the remark on a flight back to Rome from Armenia on Sunday, in response to a question from a reporter.
The journalist asked if Francis believed that in the wake of the Orlando massacre the Vatican owed the gay community an apology.
“I believe that the Church not only should apologise to the person who is gay whom it has offended,” said Francis, “but has to apologise to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labour; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons.”
The Catholic News Service described the pope’s physical response to the mention of the Orlando killings as one in which he “closed his eyes as if in pain and shook his head in dismay”.
Francis went on to add: “The church must say it is sorry for not having behaved as it should many times, many times – when I say the ‘church,’ I mean we Christians because the church is holy; we are the sinners. We Christians must say we are sorry.”
He restated his much lauded past comment about not judging gay people, but changed the “I” to “we”, saying that a person “who has good will and is seeking God, who are we to judge him?”
Francis further stated: “I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: They [gay people] must not be discriminated against. They must be respected, pastorally accompanied.”
He criticised priests who act as lords rather than fathers, describing them as “a priest who clubs people rather than embraces them and is good, consoles”.
The Pope’s latest statements follow comments last week by one of his leading advisers, German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who said that the church and society have to apologise to gay people “because we’ve done a lot to marginalise [them]”.
DignityUSA, an organisation of LGBTQ Catholics, welcomed the Pope’s statement. “This could be a very important step in healing the relationship between the Catholic Church and LGBTQ people,” said Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke.
She noted, however, that for the words to have meaning, “the Church must not only acknowledge the wrongs of the past, but take concrete actions that demonstrate its commitment to treating LGBT people justly from now on.”
Pope Francis’ messaging to LGBT people has been nothing if not confusing and inconsistent. While he appears to believe that gay people should not be discriminated against, he has repeatedly campaigned against legalising same-sex unions or marriages. Catholic institutions in some countries, including schools, continue to fire openly gay staff and even refuse to accept children with same-sex parents.
Perhaps fearing a schism in the church, Francis has also failed to publicly condemn Catholic Bishops, many in Africa, who openly support harsh anti-LGBT legislation, including the criminalisation of homosexuality.
The Catholic Church continues to describe gay sexuality as “acts of grave depravity” and as “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law”.