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:
- Holy Father, thank you for your strong call to decriminalize homosexuality. Why did you decide to say this at this time?
- 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?
- 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.
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:
- Father James Martin, S.J., speaks with NPR on decriminalizing homosexuality
- Coverage of the pope’s interview in the New York Times
- WAMU, NPR’s Washington, DC, affiliate: What a Jesuit priest thinks of Pope Francis’s statement on homosexuality
- Vatican News: Pope sends letter to Fr. James Martin on homosexuality and sin
- AP: Pope clarifies homosexuality and sin comments in note
- La Repubblica: Gay, papa Francesco: il “peccato” va valutato in base alle circostanze (Italian)
- L’Osservatore Romano: Lettera del Papa a padre James Martin su omosessualità e peccato (Italian)
- La Nación: Francisco aclaró sus dichos sobre la homosexualidad en una carta a un sacerdote cercano a la comunidad LGBTQ (Spanish)
- Washington Post: Opinion: Why Pope Francis stood up for LGBTQ lives
- NCR: Pope clarifies homosexuality and sin comments in note
- Rome Reports: Pope Francis on homosexuality: “Every sexual act outside of marriage is sin” (video)