Pope Francis has criticised laws that criminalise homosexuality as “unjust”, saying God loves all his children just as they are and called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.
“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” Pope Francis said during an interview on Tuesday with The Associated Press.
Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalise homosexuality or discriminate against the LGBTQ community, and he himself referred to the issue in terms of “sin”.
But he attributed such attitudes to cultural backgrounds and said bishops in particular need to undergo a process of change to recognise the dignity of everyone.
“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”.
Some 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do impose the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say that even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatisation and violence against LGBTQ people.
In the United States, more than a dozen states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling declaring them unconstitutional.
Gay rights advocates say the antiquated laws are used to harass homosexuals and point to new legislation, such as the “Don’t say gay” law in Florida, which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, as evidence of continued efforts to marginalise LGBTQ people.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for an end to laws criminalising homosexuality outright, saying they violate rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination and are a breach of countries’ obligations under international law to protect the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Declaring such laws “unjust”, Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to put an end to them. “It must do this. It must do this,” he said.