Pope issues rare apology over reported homophobic slur

June 2, 2024 - 5:20 PM
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Pope Francis attends the weekly general audience, in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 29, 2024. (Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane)

Pope Francis, widely quoted as having used a highly derogatory word to describe the LGBT community, did not intend to use homophobic language and apologizes to anyone offended by it, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

READ: Pope used vulgar Italian word to refer to LGBT people, Italian newspapers report

It is extremely rare for a pope to issue a public apology.

“The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologises to those who felt offended by the use of a term reported by others,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in an emailed statement.

Italian media had reported on Monday that Francis used the Italian term “frociaggine”, roughly translating as “faggotness” or “faggotry”, as he told Italian bishops he remained opposed to admitting gay people into the priesthood.

Italian political gossip website Dagospia was the first to report on the alleged incident, said to have happened on May 20 when the pontiff met Italian bishops behind closed doors.

One daily, Corriere della Sera, quoted unnamed bishops who were in the room as suggesting that the pope, as an Argentine, might not have realised that the Italian term he used was offensive.

Bruni said Francis was “aware” of the various articles.

The Vatican spokesman reiterated that the pope remained committed to a welcoming Church for all, where “nobody is useless, nobody is superfluous, (where) there is room for everyone”.

Shocking and hurtful to many’

Nevertheless, his reported remarks caused shock and consternation.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, the head of LGBT Catholic rights group DignityUSA, called them “shocking and hurtful to many, especially to the innumerable gay priests who have served God’s people faithfully and well”.

“Unfortunately, even if intended as a joke, the pope‘s comment reveals the depth of anti-gay bias and institutional discrimination that still exist in our church,” Duddy-Burke added.

Vito Mancuso, an Italian theologian and former priest, told daily La Stampa that Francis‘ language was “despicable and surprising because it blatantly jars” with his previous messages on LGBT issues.

Francis, who is 87, has been credited with making substantial overtures towards the LGBT community during his 11-year papacy.

In 2013, at the start of his papacy, he famously said: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” Last year he allowed priests to bless members of same-sex couples, triggering a substantial conservative backlash.

Back in 2018, Francis admitted making “grave mistakes” in the handling of a sexual abuse crisis in Chile, where he initially dismissed as slander accusations against a bishop suspected of protecting a predator priest.

“I apologize to all those I have offended and I hope to be able to do it personally in the coming weeks, in the meetings I will have (with victims),” he wrote in a letter to Chilean bishops.

—Reporting by Alvise Armellini; Editing by Crispian Balmer, Alison Williams and Gareth Jones