Pope Francis Apologizes for Reported Use of Derogatory Term Regarding Gay Men, Highlighting Tensions Within Catholic Church on LGBTQ+ Inclusion

Feature and Cover Pope Francis Apologizes for Reported Use of Derogatory Term Regarding Gay Men Highlighting Tensions Within Catholic Church on LGBTQ+ Inclusion

Pope Francis issued an apology on Tuesday following a media storm sparked by his reported use of a vulgar term to describe gay men while reaffirming the Catholic Church’s prohibition on gay priests. The incident highlighted the tension between the church’s official stance on homosexuality and the presence of gay men within its ranks, as well as the desire of LGBTQ+ Catholics for full inclusion in the church.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni acknowledged the controversy surrounding Francis’ remarks, delivered during a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops on May 20. According to reports in the Italian media, Francis used the term “faggotness” in Italian while restating the Vatican’s ban on admitting gay men to seminaries and ordaining them as priests.

Bruni emphasized that Francis never intended to offend or express homophobic sentiments, expressing apologies to those who were offended by the reported use of the term. However, Bruni neither confirmed nor denied the pope’s use of the word, adhering to the Vatican’s tradition of confidentiality regarding discussions behind closed doors.

For advocates of LGBTQ+ rights within the Catholic Church, the issue extended beyond the specific term used by the pope. Natalia Imperatori-Lee, chair of the religious studies department at Manhattan College, emphasized the damage caused by the church’s continued prohibition on gay men entering the priesthood.

“The LGBTQ community seems to be a constant target of offhand, off-the-cuff ‘mistakes’ from people in the Vatican, including the pope, who should know better,” she remarked.

The context of Francis’ remarks was a meeting with the Italian bishops conference, during which a new document outlining training for Italian seminarians was discussed. The document reportedly aimed to introduce celibacy as the primary criterion for priests, regardless of sexual orientation, thereby suggesting a potential modification to the Vatican’s absolute ban on gay priests.

The Vatican’s prohibition on gay priests dates back to a 2005 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, reiterated in a subsequent document in 2016. Critics have long condemned this position as homophobic, particularly given the presence of gay priests within the clergy.

The late Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former Benedictine monk, estimated that up to 30% of the U.S. clergy was homosexually oriented. Similarly, the late Rev. Donald Cozzens argued that the priesthood in the U.S. was increasingly becoming dominated by gay men.

While Church teaching emphasizes the dignity and respect owed to gay individuals, it also categorizes homosexual activity as “intrinsically disordered.” Francis, known for his outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics, has made efforts to engage with the community, but his comments have sometimes caused offense.

Francis’ use of colloquial language and informal style has occasionally led to controversy, as seen in his past remarks about homosexuality. Despite his efforts to promote inclusivity, he has faced criticism from LGBTQ+ advocates for maintaining certain traditional positions, such as opposing gender-affirming surgery.

New Ways Ministry, an organization advocating for LGBTQ+ Catholics, welcomed Francis’ apology but raised concerns about the underlying attitudes reflected in his comments and the broader ban on gay priests. Similarly, Andrea Rubera of Paths of Hope, an Italian association of LGBTQ+ Christians, expressed disappointment at the lack of a clear denial from the Vatican and called for a more inclusive dialogue within the Church.

Pope Francis’ apology for his reported use of a derogatory term underscored ongoing tensions within the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality and the inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals. While the incident prompted reflection on the language used by church leaders, it also highlighted the need for a deeper dialogue and reconsideration of existing policies regarding gay priests.

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