In an interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis took a new position on homosexuality for the Catholic Church, maintaining that it is not a crime.
Hedging a bit immediately afterward, the chief pontiff declared that sodomy is still a sin, but differentiated between a sin and a crime, noting that certain sins, such as not giving alms, are not necessarily crimes and should not be treated as so.
Noting that no less than 67 countries – including many countries in Africa, where the pope is about to visit – have laws against homosexuality, Francis intimated his view that these laws are wrong and ought to be repealed.
While the Pope did not mention it, the AP added that no less than 12 US states also still have laws outlawing homosexual acts, despite the fact that the Supreme Court declared anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003.
This is new territory for the Church, which refused in 2008 to endorse a statement from the UN calling for nations to end the criminalization of homosexuality.
Yet under Francis’s leadership over the past ten years, there was been considerably more outreach to the LGBTQ+ community, comporting with the pope’s philosophy of open arms to all.
While still far from embracing the notion that consenting adults should not be condemned for their sexual preferences, and while the Church is yet to come to the defense of transgender or nonbinary people, the declaration by Francis was nonetheless hailed as a breakthrough by many.
BREAKING: An immense step forward. Pope Francis calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide: "Declaring such laws 'unjust,' Francis said the Catholic Church can and should work to put an end to them. 'It must do this. It must do this.'"https://t.co/UGicjR3thN
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) January 25, 2023
Criticizing Pope Francis for not being progressive enough is just completely missing the forest through the trees. He's calling upon every country to decriminalize homosexuality. We need to encourage that. We need to amplify that. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
— Charlotte Clymer 🇺🇦 (@cmclymer) January 25, 2023
Here in the US, we still have people like Texas AG Ken Paxton, who, as my great colleague Stephanie Bazzle has reported, told an interviewer that he would consider enforcing anti-sodomy laws once again if the Supreme Court allowed it.
And with this conservative Supreme Court, who really knows for sure what could happen?
Francis differentiating between sins and crimes, while not wholly fulfilling, does get at a central issue of law: what we should be judging and what we should not.
In general, as a society, we try to stay away from matters of the heart.
We do not, for instance, criminalize extra-marital affairs or hurtful or inconsiderate breakups, wrong though they may be – those are purely personal matters that may come up in civil litigation, but are not deemed in the realm of the criminal.
Essentially, while Republicans in this country seem to want to regulate our bodies, our bedrooms, and everything but our boardrooms, the pope has at least realized that the bedroom part is too invasive, too punitive, and fairly impractical.
That’s one small step for the pope, one giant leap for religion.
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