Pope Francis clarifies comments on homosexuality: “One must consider the circumstances.”

Breaking NewsViews Outreach Staff / January 27, 2023 Print this:
A cropped image of a letter written by Pope Francis to Outreach editor James Martin, S.J., on Jan. 27, 2023. Two versions were sent from the Holy See: a handwritten version and a typed version, seen below.

This week, in an interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis became the first pope to call for the decriminalization of homosexuality. It was an historic step towards the Catholic Church’s protection of vulnerable LGBTQ people around the world. (Read our coverage of the pope’s recent remarks here.)

During his interview, the Holy Father imagined a hypothetical conversation in which a person might object by saying, “Being homosexual is a sin,” and the pope suggested a response: “It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

Some media outlets, however, ascribed these sentiments directly to the pope, even though church teaching does not state that the homosexual orientation itself is a sin. As the pope said in his interview, as he has on other occasions: “It is a human condition.”

To help clarify things, Outreach asked the Holy Father three questions, in Spanish, and received a written response from him. We framed these questions as an interview, in order that he knew that his responses would be made public. Our three questions were:

  1. Holy Father, thank you for your strong call to decriminalize homosexuality. Why did you decide to say this at this time?
  2. There seems to have been some confusion about your comment, “Being gay is a sin,” which, of course, is not part of church teaching. My feeling was that you were simply repeating what others might say hypothetically. So, do you think that simply being gay is a sin?
  3. What would you say to Catholic bishops who still support the criminalization of homosexuality?

The pope’s written response to Outreach editor James Martin, S.J., appears below, translated from the Spanish by J.D. Long-García and Ivan Briggeler.

Dear brother,

Thank you for your letter.

It is not the first time that I speak of homosexuality and of homosexual persons.

And I wanted to clarify that it is not a crime, in order to stress that criminalization is neither good nor just.

When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin. Of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault. As you can see, I was repeating something in general. I should have said “It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.” This is to speak of “the matter” of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter, but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin.

And I would tell whoever wants to criminalize homosexuality that they are wrong.

In a televised interview, where we spoke with natural and conversational language, it is understandable that there would not be such precise definitions.

I pray for you and for your work. Please do the same for me.

May Jesus bless you and may the Holy Virgin protect you.



Original Spanish-language version

Full handwritten letter from Pope Francis

Continued coverage of the pope’s remarks is available via the links below:

Outreach Staff

All articles by Outreach Staff

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  1. Pope Francis is correct in saying that homosexual sex should be decriminalized. Sexual orientation is not a choice. I did not choose to be heterosexual. I just am. I can see the logic of getting society to accept homosexuality by decriminalizing it, and thereby having all people accept homosexuality as being normal as heterosexuality. This will make it easier for the Catholic Church to come out and state that homosexuality is simply one form of natural sexual orientation. This will not be the first time that the Church has learned from science. The Church is made up of humans whose capacity for knowledge is limited, and this is in spite of being guided by the Holy Spirit. We tend to listen to our own voice and not that of what the Holy Spirit is whispering. Very often our human voices are tainted by bias and prejudice…. God bless Pope Francis with good health and courage.. J. Peter Guerra

  2. So very glad to see Pope Francis reaching out in this handwritten letter to James Martin, SJ, to clarify even further his statement to the AP.
    As I read this letter, it seems then logically that couples who have been married in the many places where same-sex unions are legal would be free of “sin” — in their sharing love with one another, even though the Catholic Church has not yet discerned the sacramentality of these unions.

    • I don’t agree with you since you’ve not shown where it’s written in the Bible that persons of the same sex can legally marry each other; rather, it condemns it. However, my understanding of the Pope’s message is that we should not judge our fellows, but rather teach them what sin is. Am grateful for the Pope’s message and may the Almighty God protect him forever.

  3. I feel that is how God made me so why is it a sin to accept and be the person that He made me? I have struggled with this for a long time and now I accept myself as the person whom God made me.

  4. It is refreshing to have the words of this Pope recognize that there are differences among human beings regarding their sexual natures, and that not all of these differences, merely because they are different from a particular model dating back to Leviticus, constitute sin. Our Church is one of the most “conservative” institutions in the world (it took hundreds of years to “clear” Galileo 😊) and for the Pope to voice unpopular views because he follows his vocation to teach Christ’s truth in today’s world shows that this Pope moves past the abstract treatises of his predecessor to touch real people in their real lives and to show that God loves them where they are. Pope Francis does not give license but does give understanding which has been sorely lacking in the Church for many people. Of course the reactionaries already excoriate his holiness, some bordering on disobedience and disrespect. May Pope Francis remain healthy, strong and undeterred as Vicar of Christ!