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Church Should Apologize To Gays, Pope Francis Says


Pope Francis says the Catholic Church should seek forgiveness for its mistreatment of people who are gay. He made that and other comments on a plane. He was holding an airborne press conference on his return from a visit to Armenia. And NPR's Sylvia Poggioli was on board that plane. She's on the line now. Hi, Sylvia.


INSKEEP: What exactly did the pope say?

POGGIOLI: Well, he was asked if he agreed with comments by his close adviser Cardinal Reinhard Marx acknowledging the church's mistreatment of gays, particularly in light of the recent massacre at the gay nightclub in Orlando. At the mention of Orlando, the pope looked pained. He closed his eyes and shook his head in dismay. And he said...

POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken).

POGGIOLI: "I think the church has to apologize not only to the gay person it has offended, but also to the poor, to women who are exploited, to children forced into labor and for having blessed so many weapons in the past."

INSKEEP: How does this fit in with other things that the pope has said about gay people?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, in 2013, shortly after he was elected, he uttered one of the defining quotes of his papacy. And yesterday, he repeated that statement just switching it to the plural.

POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken).

POGGIOLI: "If a person in that situation has good will and is looking for God, who are we to judge?" Last time, he said who am I to judge, but this time he's speaking for the church. Now, the pope also said that some cultures have different attitudes toward gays and some gay pride demonstrations are perhaps over the top for some people. However, that does not justify marginalization of gays. But, you know, however welcoming his attitude is, it does not mean the Catholic Church is likely to change soon its teachings that while homosexual tendencies are not sinful, homosexual acts are.

INSKEEP: I guess we should mention that this is a little bit off the news - these remarks about gays and lesbians - a little bit off the news that the pope intended to make because he was visiting Armenia, as we said, and reignited tensions with Turkey by talking about a genocide. What was he saying?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, the word genocide had not been included in the prepared text of the pope's speech at the Armenian presidential palace. And when he was asked why he added it, he said in Argentina that's the word that's used. He said while he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, he made many friends in the large Armenian community. And he said it would have sounded strange for him not to use that word.

INSKEEP: And this is a World War I-era episode in which 1.5 million or so Armenians were killed, right?

POGGIOLI: That's right. And Turkey rejects the genocide label. And yesterday, the Deputy Prime Minister Nurettin Canikli said the pope's words reflect the mentality of the Crusades. The Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi rejected the accusation.


FEDERICO LOMBARDI: If someone listened to the pope or reads what the pope has written or has said, there is nothing of a spirit of crusade. This is spirit of dialogue, of building peace, of building bridges and not walls.

INSKEEP: Did the pope talk about the very biggest news of the last few days, Britain's vote to leave the European Union?

POGGIOLI: Oh, yes, he did. And, you know, the pope is a strong believer in a united Europe. He said unity is always superior to conflict. But he admitted that the European Union has lost its way.

POPE FRANCIS: (Foreign language spoken).

POGGIOLI: "There is something that doesn't work in that unwieldy Union, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The two key words for the European Union are creativity and fruitfulness. That's the challenge." So, you know, once again Pope Francis has shown that he's not afraid to speak bluntly and tell it like it is.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, now back in Rome. Sylvia, thanks.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.