Francis said in the interview that laws criminalizing homosexuality are "unjust," and called on Catholic bishops to welcome LGBTQ people into the church.
"Being homosexual isn't a crime," Francis said on Tuesday, calling upon bishops who may view homosexuality as a sin to change their views as to recognize everyone's dignity.
"These bishops have to have a process of conversion," he said, adding that they should apply "tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us."
Francis called laws against LGBTQ people unjust and said that work should be done to end them. "It must do this. It must do this," the Pope said. "We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity."
Francis added there needed to be a distinction between a crime and a sin with regard to homosexuality.
"It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin," he said. "Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime."
Francis' comments come after allegations by his predecessor, Pope Benedict, that the church is being pushed by a progressive agenda. The former pontiff wrote that homosexual clubs openly operate in Catholic seminaries, which prepare candidates to become priests. Much of this activity is specifically in the United States, he wrote.
Benedict, who died on December 31 at 95, wrote that the church was on the verge of "collapse" and said that priests and bishops were being permitted to watch porn at the seminaries.
As translated from Italian, Benedict's writings state that he no longer wished to publish anything so long as he lived, because of the fierce opposition he would face if he made such revelations. Much of Benedict's criticism of Francis, and the progressive direction in which the Argentine Pope is leading the church, has emerged since his death.
"For my part, in life, I no longer want to publish anything. The fury of the circles against me in Germany is so strong that the appearance of every my word immediately causes a murderous shouting from them. I want to spare myself and Christendom this," he wrote.
"There were individual bishops," Benedict wrote, "and not only in the United States, who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole, aiming in their dioceses to develop a kind of new, modern catholicity. Perhaps it is worth mentioning the fact that, in not a few seminaries, students caught reading my books were considered unfit for the priesthood. My books were concealed as harmful literature and were read only in secret, so to speak," Benedict wrote, according to translations posted by Twitter user @Pope_Head.
"In the context of the meeting of the presidents of the episcopal conferences of the whole work with Pope Francis," he wrote, "it is at heart above all the question of priestly life and also that of seminaries. As regards the problem of preparation for priestly ministry in seminaries, we note in fact a vast collapse of the current form of this preparation." The writings also go into detail about the homosexual nature of the seminaries, which he equates to gay clubs. Much of this, he said, is in the United States.
"In various seminaries homosexual 'clubs' were formed which acted more or less openly and which clearly transformed the atmosphere in the seminaries. In a seminary in southern Germany, candidates for the priesthood and candidates for the lay office of pastoral referent lived together."
"During common meals," he continued, "the seminarians were together with married pastoral representatives, partly accompanied by their wives and children and in some cases by their girlfriends. The climate in the seminary could not help priestly formation," he wrote, noting that a "bishop who had previously been rector had allowed seminarians to be shown pornographic films, presumably with the intention of thereby enabling them to resist against behavior contrary to the faith."
Benedict's writings are the latest in a recent string of books released by those in the Vatican who have scolded Francis, who they say is undermining the church with his liberal agenda. According to leading Vatican analyst John Allen, the books contribute to “impressions of a mounting civil war in the Church following the death of Benedict XVI," reports The Telegraph.
Pope Francis has previously denounced pornography and called it the influence of "the devil." In October he said that nuns and priests regularly watch porn and that it was a danger to the soul.
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