“The church…must not only ask forgiveness to the gay person who is offended,” Francis told reporters during a press conference that took place while on a flight to Rome from Armenia, according to a transcript from the Catholic News Agency. “She must ask forgiveness to the poor too, to women who are exploited, to children who are exploited for labor. She must ask forgiveness for having blessed so many weapons.”
“The church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times,” he added. “When I say the church, I mean Christians.”
Francis made his comments in response to a question about whether he agrees with German Cardinal Reinhard Marx who said in the days after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, Fla., that the church should apologize to gay people for marginalizing them.
“They must not be discriminated against,” said Francis. “They must be respected and accompanied pastorally. One can condemn, but not for theological reasons, but for reasons of political behavior.”
Pope’s statements will provide ‘healing and reconciliation’
Francis’ comments come nearly three years after he told reporters that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that ministers to LGBT Catholics, in a statement he released on Sunday noted the Vatican’s tone towards LGBT people in the church has become more moderate since Francis became pope in 2013.
“No pope has said more welcoming words to LGBT people than Pope Francis’ recommendation today that the church — indeed all Christians — should apologize for the harm religious traditions have caused to LGBT people,” said DeBernardo. “The pope’s statement was simple, yet powerful, and it fell from his lips so easily. The simplicity of his language will provide an immense blessing of healing and reconciliation to LGBT people and Catholics who support them, who have been waiting decades to hear such a simple, honest statement from the Vatican.”
Francis, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires who opposed efforts to extend marriage rights for same-sex couples in Argentina, has previously said the church has grown “obsessed” with gay nuptials and other social issues.
The Argentine-born pontiff has met with several LGBT people during his papacy, including a transgender man from Spain who was rejected by his fellow parishioners after underdoing sex-reassignment surgery. Francis last September met with Yayo Grassi, a former student, and his partner during his trip to D.C.
Francis in 2015 said during a rally for families in the Philippine capital of Manila that “ideological colonization” seeks to “destroy the family.”
Catholic bishops who gathered in Rome last October to discuss the family released the final draft of a document that, among other things, states unions between same-sex couples are not “even remotely analogous” to “God’s plan for marriage and the family.”
The document also criticized the extension of marriage rights to gays and lesbians as a condition for “poor countries” to receive financial aid. Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry last November dismissed this claim during his visit to the Vatican.
LGBT people face ‘ongoing’ harm from church
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group for LGBT Catholics, has pointed out to the Washington Blade in previous interviews that the church’s positions on homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other issues have not changed during Francis’ papacy.
Duddy-Burke on Sunday said in a statement that the pope’s latest comments “could be a very important step in healing the relationship between the Catholic Church and LGBTQ people.”
“The frank acknowledgment by the pope that church teachings and practices have done immense harm to LGBTQ people over the centuries — leading to such evils as violence, oppression, self-hatred, the division of families, youth homelessness and suicide — is essential,” she said.
Others were more critical.
“Pope Francis’ comments about the church’s ‘past treatment’ of gays doesn’t acknowledge the harm being caused in present day,” said Eliel Cruz, executive director of Faith in America, a group founded by gay philanthropist Mitchell Gold, on Monday in a statement.
“The harm LGBT people face from the church is ongoing,” added Cruz. “The church’s teachings on homosexuality as sinful is causing this harm.”
Dindi Tan, a Philippine LGBT rights advocate, largely echoed Cruz.
“The wound is just too deep to be assuaged by words as comforting as the pontiff’s recent pronouncements,” Tan told the Blade on Monday. “Although we consider the church’s ‘mea culpa’ as one step toward healing, the mood in the LGBT community is far from ‘celebratory.’”
“We have yet to see a formal shift of policy by the church when it comes to LGBT people, our rights and our welfare,” she added.
Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay Chilean man who was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in his South American homeland in the 1980s, remains a vocal critic of the Vatican’s response to the child sex abuse within the church.
The leaders of the Chilean Catholic church last year blocked his nomination to a Vatican commission that Francis established to respond to the crisis.
Juan Carlos Cruz on Sunday pointed out to the Blade that Francis earlier this year rejected a gay man that French President François Hollande had named to become his country’s next ambassador to the Vatican. He also criticized the Argentine-born pontiff over his continued opposition to women priests.
“Every time and since he became pope, all he says is yes, but there is no follow up,” Juan Carlos Cruz told the Blade. “All we see are empty headlines.”