Pope clarifies comments on homosexuality and sin in memo

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has clarified his recent comments on homosexuality and sin, saying he was simply 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 this black-and-white teaching is subject to circumstances that could eliminate sin altogether.

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

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

“Okay, but first let’s make a distinction between a sin and a crime,” Francis said in the mock conversation. “It is also a sin to have no mercy 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 individuals. But his reference to “sin” has raised questions about whether he believes being gay itself is a sin.

The Reverend James Martin, an American Jesuit who heads the US-based LGBTQ Catholic outreach ministry, sought clarification from Francis and printed the pope’s handwritten response on the Outreach website late friday.

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

“When I said it was 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 phrase.

But in a nod to his individual approach to pastoral ministry, Francis noted that even this teaching is subject to consideration of circumstances “that 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 didn’t require precise definitions.

“As you can see, I was repeating something in general. I should have said, “It is a sin, like any sexual act outside of marriage.” That is to speak of the “matter” of sin, but we well know that Catholic morality not only considers matter, but also values ​​agency and intention; and that for every kind of sin,” he said.

About 67 countries or jurisdictions around the world criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity, 11 of which can or do carry the death penalty, according to The Human Dignity Trust, which works to end such laws. Experts say that even when the laws are not enforced, they contribute to harassment, stigmatization and violence against LGBTQ people.

Catholic teaching forbids gay marriage, considering the sacrament of marriage to be a lifelong bond between a man and a woman. It reserves intercourse for married couples while banning artificial contraception.

In his decade-long pontificate, Francis maintained this teaching, but made LGBTQ outreach a priority. He emphasized a more merciful approach to applying church doctrine to accompany people instead of judging them.

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