Pope clarifies homosexuality and sin comments in note

ROME (AP) – Pope Francis has clarified his recent comments on homosexuality and sin, saying he was only referring to official Catholic moral teaching that teaches that any sexual act outside of marriage is a sin.

And in a note on Friday, Francis recalled that even the black-and-white doctrine is subject to circumstances that can eliminate sin altogether.

Francis first made the comments in a January 24 interview with The Associated Press, in which he declared that laws criminalizing homosexuality were “unjust” and that “being gay is not a crime.”

As he often does, Francis imagined a conversation with someone who raised the issue of the church’s official teaching, which says homosexual acts are sinful, or “inherently disordered.”

“Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime,” Francis said in a mock conversation. “It is also a sin to lack charity towards one another.”

His comments calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality were hailed by LGBTQ advocates as a milestone that would help end harassment and violence against LGBTQ people. But his reference to “sin” raised questions about whether he believed that just being gay was in itself a sin.

Reverend James Martin, an American Jesuit who runs the US-based Outreach Ministry for LGBTQ Catholics, asked Francis for clarification and printed the Pope’s handwritten response on the Outreach website late Friday.

In his note, Francis affirmed that homosexuality “is not a crime,” and said he was speaking out “to emphasize that criminalization is neither good nor fair.”

“When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that any sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” Francis wrote in Spanish, emphasizing the last sentence.

But in a nod to his case-by-case approach to pastoral ministry, Francis noted that even that teaching is subject to consideration of the circumstances, “which can reduce or eliminate error.”

He acknowledged that he could have been clearer in his comments to the AP. But he said he used “natural and conversational language” in the interview that does not require precise definitions.

“As you can see, I repeated something in general. I should have said, ‘It’s a sin, like any sexual act outside of marriage.’ This is to talk about the ‘matter’ of sin, but we know very well that Catholic morality not only considers the matter, but also considers freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin,” he said.

About 67 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which may or may 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, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

Catholic teaching forbids gay marriage, and believes that the sacrament of marriage is a lifelong bond between a man and a woman. It reserves sexual intercourse for married couples while at the same time prohibiting artificial contraception.

In his decade-long pontificate, Francis has maintained this teaching, but has made outreach to LGBTQ people a priority. He has emphasized a more compassionate approach to applying the Church’s teachings, to follow people instead of judging them.

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