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Pope Francis apologizes for gay slur

By Alice RITCHIE Published May 29, 2024 11:49 am

Pope Francis issued an extraordinary apology on Tuesday, May 28 for using a vulgar gay slur in a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops.

"The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms and he extends his apologies to those who felt offended by the use of a term, reported by others," the Vatican said in a statement.

The meeting with more than 250 bishops took place last week.

The 87-year-old pontiff had expressed his opposition to homosexual men entering training colleges for priests, even if they declared they would be celibate.

According to two Italian newspapers, Francis said there was already too much "frociaggine" in seminaries, using an offensive Roman term that translates as "faggotry."

The reports made headlines around the world, for the shocking vulgarity of the language and because the comments appeared at odds with the pope's efforts to make the Catholic Church more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people.

In 2013, just weeks after taking office, Francis famously said that "if someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?"

There was some speculation that Francis, the Spanish-speaking son of an Italian emigrant to Argentina, did not understand the full negative connotations of the word he was using.

The Vatican statement did not confirm explicitly what he said but referred to newspaper articles.

"As he had the opportunity to state on several occasions: 'In the Church there is room for everyone, everyone! Nobody is useless, nobody is superfluous, there is space for everyone. Just as we are, all of us,'" the statement added.

'Harmful' language

Francis DeBernardo, head of US LGBTQ+ Catholic group New Ways Ministry, welcomed the apology for what he said was a "careless colloquialism."

"We hope this incident will encourage him to learn more about the language he uses, and about how misuse can be dangerously harmful," he said.

But DeBernardo expressed disappointment that the Vatican did not clarify the pope's arguments regarding gay priests.

"Without a clarification, his words will be interpreted as a blanket ban on accepting any gay man to a seminary," he said.

Italian gay rights activist Fabrizio Marrazzo, leader of the Gay Party, accused the pope of "backsliding on LGBTQ+ rights."

Francis has repeatedly insisted on the importance of a Catholic Church open to all, including LGBTQ+ believers, and last December opened the door to the blessing of gay couples.

But official church doctrine still states same-sex acts are "intrinsically disordered" and the Vatican is strongly opposed to gay marriage.


Vaticanist and author John Allen said the pope was known for having a "salty tongue," using "off-color, occasionally vulgar language."

Francis once said Catholics need not "breed like rabbits" and in 2015 drew criticism for seeming to defend the use of violence to defend one's faith, saying that "if a good friend speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched."

Meeting Catholic families in Verona this month, the pope told a joke about a grumpy shopkeeper, pausing half way through the punchline so it sounded like it would end with a swear word, before correcting himself with a cheeky laugh.

But Allen said the pontiff was also known for "extraordinary political savvy," and noted the context of his words in the seminary row.

"The Italian bishops are considering a draft set of guidelines for seminaries, the effect of which would be to say that if a guy has a same-sex orientation, that's fine, as long as he's not practising," Allen told AFP.

"In that context, it seems clear that the pope wanted to strike a note of caution."

On the streets of Rome, however, the remarks caused some dismay.

"I'm shocked. Religion is about uniting... to bring people together," said Caterina Constantinava, a tourist visiting from London.

Her daughter, Alexandria, 14, added: "As a person who has such high power, he doesn't need to go around using foul language... it's just disrespectful." (AFP)