Pope Francis says Catholic church should seek forgiveness from gays

On a flight from Armenia back to the Vatican, Pope Francis said that he agreed that gays, as well as all others marginalized by the Catholic church and Christians generally, deserve an apology.

Tiziana Fabi/Reuters/Pool
Pope Francis speaks to journalists on his flight back to Rome following a visit at Armenia on Sunday

The LGBT community and other marginalized groups deserve an apology from Catholics, said Pope Francis on Sunday. 

Speaking to reporters on a plane en route from Armenia to Rome, Francis said that the church "must not only apologize...to a gay person it offended, but we must apologize to the poor, to women who have been exploited, to children forced into labor, apologize for having blessed so many weapons." 

The statement was prompted by a reporter asking whether Francis agreed with German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, one of his top advisors, who said at a conference in Dublin last week that as a society "we've also to say 'sorry, sorry'" to LGBT people. 

"The history of homosexuals in our societies is very bad because we’ve done a lot to marginalize [them]," Cardinal Marx said. 

When asked on Sunday whether an apology from the church was made more urgent by the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla., earlier this month, Francis replied that LGBT people "should not be discriminated against. They should be respected, accompanied pastorally." 

Francis first distinguished his position on homosexuality from that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, shortly after his election in 2013, when he said of gay priests, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" 

It was a distinct change in tone from Benedict XVI, who had previously written that homosexuality was "a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil" and that men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should not become priests. 

"The most astonishing thing to me is that [Francis's] predecessor was indeed focused on following rules, on highlighting doctrine, on placing strict adherence to moral teaching above just about everything else," Peter Ellard, director of the Reinhold Niebuhr Institute of Religion and Culture at Siena College, told The Christian Science Monitor's Harry Bruinius in 2013. "The message seems clear: Francis has another idea. It is truly an exciting time."

Speaking on Sunday, Francis repeated a variation of his famous comment.

"The questions is: if a person who has that condition, who has good will, and who looks for God, who are we to judge?" he said. 

According to Church teachings, homosexual tendencies are not sinful but homosexual acts are, and that gays and lesbians should practice chastity. 

While "there are "some [gay] demonstrations that are too offensive for some," that does not justify marginalization or discrimination, Francis said. 

"We Christians have to apologize for so many things, not just for this [treatment of gays], but we must ask for forgiveness, not just apologize!" he told reporters. "Forgiveness! Lord, it is a word we forget so often!"

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press. 

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