Watch: Pope Francis says homosexuality is ‘a sin’ but not ‘a crime'
Pope Francis greets the crowd as he arrives for his general audience at St Peter's Square in the Vatican, on June 17, 2015 (AFP)

Pope Francis, whose tenure has been marked by a kinder and gentler approach than his predecessor, reiterated Catholic church doctrine that homosexuality is a "sin" but not a "crime," urged local bishops to welcome LGBTQ people into the church, and called for an end to anti-LGBTQ laws and discrimination.

“Being homosexual is not a crime. It’s not a crime," the Pope told The Associated Press in an interview released Wednesday morning (video below). "Yes, it’s a sin. Well, yes, but let’s make the distinction first between sin and crime."

The Pope urged anti-LGBTQ bishops to change so they recognize everyone's "dignity," the AP reported.

“These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” Pope Francis said, calling for “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

Francis also said the Catholic Church, which he heads, should work to end laws that criminalize homosexuality.

“It must do this. It must do this,” he said.

The AP adds that "Francis quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church in saying gay people must be welcomed and respected, and should not be marginalized or discriminated against."

“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” Francis said.

While some of Pope Francis' remarks are not new, some, including Jesuit Priest James Martin, SJ, editor at large for America Magazine, pointing to the decriminalization portion, called them an "immense step forward."

"In some 70 countries, homosexual relations are still a crime," Martin notes. "in a few countries, a person can be executed for being gay. This is a historic step forward for the church, and the Pope's clear statement today will help to lessen violence against LGBTQ people and save lives."

As NCRM has previously reported, Pope Francis continues to oppose marriage for same-sex couples. He has a lengthy record of vacillating between making compassionate statements about same-sex couples and gay people, while denouncing in the strongest possible terms affording them the same rights and responsibilities as those in different-sex marriages. He has also taken a strong stance against transgender people.

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family,” he said two years ago, in remarks that were seen as highly-confrontational by conservatives. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

His remarks were part of a call he made saying he supported civil unions for same-sex couples, comments the Vatican was quick to claim were taken out of context, and stressed did not alter church doctrine.

The Vatican not only quickly walked his statement back, it insisted that LGBTQ people having a “right to a family” only meant acceptance by their own families – not a right to form families, and not a right to marriage.

In 2014, Pope Francis called same-sex marriage “anthropological regression.”

One year later he said same-sex marriage threatened to “disfigure God’s plan.” He later called marriages of same-sex couples “disfigured.” Also in 2015 he announced support for constitutional bans on marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

But the following year Francis said the Catholic Church and Christians “must ask forgiveness” and “apologize” to gay people. In 2018 the Pope reportedly told a gay man, “God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”

Also in 2016 Francis called transgender people an “annihilation of man as the image of God.” That same year he said teaching children about transgender people is "indoctrination" and "ideological colonization."

Watch the Pope's remarks below or at this link.