Pope Francis apologises after outcry over homophobic slur

Pope Francis was quoted as using deeply offensive term while reportedly reaffirming the Catholic Church’s ban on gay priests

Tara Cobham
Tuesday 28 May 2024 15:57 BST
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The pontiff did not intend to express himself in homophobic terms and apologised to anyone offended by it, the Vatican said on Tuesday
The pontiff did not intend to express himself in homophobic terms and apologised to anyone offended by it, the Vatican said on Tuesday (PA)

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Pope Francis has apologised after an outcry erupted over his alleged use of a deeply offensive slur to describe the LGBT+ community during a closed-door discussion with bishops.

The Vatican issued a statement on Tuesday acknowledging the media storm sparked by Pope Francis’s widely reported homophobic remark. He was said to have made the comment while reaffirming the Catholic Church’s ban on gay priests.

“The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he extends his apologies to those who were offended by the use of a term that was reported by others,” Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said.

The apology follows a closed-door meeting on 20 May at an Italian bishops’ conference in Rome, where one of the topics discussed was whether to allow celibate gay men to undergo training for priesthood at Catholic seminaries.

The 87-year-old pope is said to have spoken against the idea.

He was reported in the Italian media as joking that there was already too much frociaggine in some seminaries, which translates to a highly offensive Italian slur.

Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 22 May
Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 22 May (Reuters)

The Italian bishops conference had recently approved a new document outlining training for Italian seminarians. The document, which hasn’t been published pending a review by the Holy See, reportedly sought to open some wiggle room in the Vatican’s absolute ban on gay priests.

The Vatican ban was articulated in a 2005 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, and later repeated in a subsequent document in 2016, which said the church cannot admit to seminaries or ordain men who “practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture”.

Italian is not Pope Francis’s mother tongue language, and the Argentine pope has made linguistic mistakes in the past that raised eyebrows.

His apology has been welcomed by a UK Catholic LGBT+ group.

Martin Pendergast, secretary of LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council, said: “Given the media frenzy that there has been around this, I think it is very significant that an apology has come so swiftly and he clearly recognised not just that he is sorry for those who might have been hurt but also that it was homophobic language.”

Mr Pendergast said the Pope “should be more careful about how he phrases things, particularly in these kind of off-the-cuff remarks”. He added: “I think he tends to use these slang words without understanding the ramifications they can have.”

He said the remark would not be a step back for relations between the church and its gay members and questioned the way in which the comment had emerged from the private meeting.

He said: “I just wonder what the rationale was for whoever released this to the media, was it used to weaponise against the Pope’s more consistent LGBT+ welcoming approach? It would have been better to have challenged the comment within the meeting [rather than leaking it].”

Asked about the comment, a spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said: “Echoing the consistent message of the Synod and this papacy, the Catholic Church is a place of welcome for all.”

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