Pope Francis says being gay is a sin but ‘not a crime’, praises Benedict as a “gentleman”

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Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize 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,” Francis said during an interview with The Associated Press.

Although Francis criticized the criminalization of homosexuality, he made it clear that he believes homosexuality is a sin. “Let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime,” the pope said.

The church teaches that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” and though Francis has tried to use a more welcoming tone toward LGBT Catholics — most famously saying, “Who am I to judge?” — he has been unwilling to alter the official church stance.

Francis acknowledged that Catholic bishops in some parts of the world support laws that criminalize 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 recognize 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 criminalize 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 even where the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying gays must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized or discriminated against.

“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,” Francis said, speaking to the AP in the Vatican hotel where he lives.

Such laws are common in Africa and the Middle East and date from British colonial times or are inspired by Islamic law. Some Catholic bishops have strongly upheld them as consistent with Vatican teaching that considers homosexual activity “intrinsically disordered,” while others have called for them to be overturned as a violation of basic human dignity.

Pope Francis says he hasn’t even considered issuing norms to regulate future papal resignations and plans to continue for as long as he can as bishop of Rome, despite a wave of attacks by some top-ranked cardinals and bishops.

In his first interview since the Dec. 31 death of retired Pope Benedict XVI, Francis addressed his health, his critics and the next phase of his pontificate, which marks its 10th anniversary in March without Benedict’s shadow in the background.

“I’m in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” the 86-year-old pontiff said Tuesday, though he revealed that diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, had “returned.” Francis had 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine removed in 2021 because of what the Vatican said was inflammation that caused a narrowing of his colon.

He added that a slight bone fracture in his knee from a fall had healed without surgery after laser and magnet therapy.

“I might die tomorrow, but it’s under control. I’m in good health,” he told The Associated Press with his typical wry sense of humor.

Francis praised Benedict as a “gentleman,” and said of his death: “I lost a dad.”

“For me, he was a security. In the face of a doubt, I would ask for the car and go to the monastery and ask,” he said of his visits to Benedict’s retirement home for counsel. “I lost a good companion.”

Francis has said Benedict “opened the door” to future resignations, and that he too would consider stepping down. He repeated in the interview that if he were to resign he’d be called the emeritus bishop of Rome and would live in the residence for retired priests in the diocese of Rome.

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