The Catholic Church must put Pope Francis’ historic statement that homosexuality is not a crime into action by actively supporting efforts to repeal laws criminalising homosexuality in Africa.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, Francis asserted that homosexuality is “not a crime” but acknowledged that some would argue that it’s “a sin”. He responded, “Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.”
The head of the Catholic Church pointed out, however, that “It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another.”
Pope Francis said that laws criminalising homosexuality are “unjust” and that the church should campaign to end them. “It must do this. It must do this,” he said.
The pontiff believes that Catholic bishops who continue to support or advocate for laws against gay people “have to have a process of conversion,” and that they must treat everyone with “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
The Pope’s comments come just days before his planned visit to Congo and South Sudan. According to ILGA World, 66 UN member states continue to criminalise consensual same-sex sexual relations, a large number of them in Africa. The continent has one of the fastest growing Catholic populations in the world, with almost 200 million members.
ILGA World co-Secretaries General, Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown, welcomed the Pope’s words. “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,” they said in a statement.
Julia Ehrt, executive director at ILGA World, called for “the Holy See to turn these words into concrete action,” and said that “The Catholic Church and its institutions can and should play an active role in supporting decriminalisation efforts across the world and within the United Nations and multilateral fora.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of LGBTQ Catholic group New Ways Ministry, believes that “this call for decriminalisation will help save lives and promote respect for LGBTQ+ people, particularly in areas where law or social norms make them victims of fear, hatred, violence, and death.”
“The Pope is reminding the church that the way people treat one another in the social world is of much greater moral importance that what people may possibly do in the privacy of a bedroom,” he added.
Pope Francis has previously stated that gays and lesbians should not be judged or discriminated against and met with the parents of LGBTQ children, telling them their children are worthy of love from the church. In 2020, he expressed his approval of the legal recognition of same-sex unions by the state (but not the church).
Francis remains opposed to the recognition of same-sex marriage. He’s also rejected transgender rights and gender diversity, describing these in public statements as threats to the family and humanity.
According to official Catholic doctrine, same-sex sex is defined as an “[act] of grave depravity”, “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law”.