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Pope apologizes after alleged use of homophobic slur

May 28, 2024

Italian media has said that the pope used a highly derogatory slur against LGBTQ+ people at a bishops' conference. The Vatican issued a rare apology, without acknowledging whether the pontiff used the term.

Pope Francis delivering a speech at a church in Venice on April 28, 2024.
Pope Francis has pushed for efforts to make the Catholic Church more welcoming to LGBTQ+ peopleImage: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis allegedly used a highly offensive term to refer to LGBTQ+ people during a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops, Italian media reported on Tuesday.

The major Italian daily newspapers La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera both cited anonymous sources as saying that the pope had made the remark while reiterating his position against gay people becoming priests.

The 87-year-old pontiff was reported as saying that the Catholic seminaries were already too full of "frociaggine" — a highly derogatory term in Italian.

The Vatican later on Tuesday issued a rare public apology, albeit without confirming the accuracy of the media reports. 

"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 statement read. 

"As [Pope Francis] 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 Vatican said. 

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What is the Pope's stance on LGBTQ+ people?

The incident was first reported by political gossip site Dagospia, which said it happened on May 20 during the opening of the four-day Italian Bishops' Conference.

Corriere della Sera cited unnamed bishops who confirmed the reports to them, but added that the pope, who is originally from Argentina, may not have been aware of the offensive nature of the term.

Despite his opposition to gay people becoming priests, Pope Francis has generally pushed for a somewhat more welcoming attitude toward LGBTQ+ people, drawing anger from more conservative members of the Catholic Church.

Last year, he gave limited permission for priests to bless same-sex couples in some contexts and at the beginning of his papacy, back in 2013, he said: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

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Slow progress in the Catholic Church

The official doctrine of the Church remains opposed to homosexuality, with Pope Francis delivering a similar message to the Italian bishops in 2018, albeit without the homophobic slur, calling on them to carefully vet potential priests and to reject suspected homosexuals.

Under Francis's predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican said that the Church could accept as priests people who had overcome homosexual tendencies for three years.

The Catholic Church has been struggling with falling church attendance and declining relevance across many countries in recent years.

Attempts to modernize the church's attitude toward LGBTQ+ people and women have often been thwarted by highly conservative parts of the clergy.

ab/rmt (Reuters, AFP)