ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (AP) — Pope Francis, leader of the Anglican Communion and senior Presbyterian minister, on Sunday denounced the criminalization of homosexuality and said gay people should be welcomed by their churches.
The three Christian leaders spoke out on LGBTQ rights in an unprecedented joint air press conference after returning from South Sudan, where they took part in a three-day ecumenical pilgrimage to try to advance the process of peace of the young country.
They were asked about Francis’ recent comments to The Associated Pressin which he said that laws that criminalize homosexuals were “unfair” and that “being homosexual is not a crime”.
South Sudan is one of 67 countries that criminalize homosexuality, 11 of which carry the death penalty. LGBTQ advocates say that even when these laws are not enforced, they contribute to a climate of harassment, discrimination and violence.
Francis fired his Jan. 24 comments back to the AP and repeated that such laws are “unfair.” He also repeated previous comments that parents should never throw their gay children out of the house.
“To condemn someone like that is a sin,” he said. “Criminalizing people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice.
“People with homosexual tendencies are children of God. God loves them. God accompanies them,” he added.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recalled LGBTQ rights being high on the Church of England agenda and said he would quote the pope’s own words when the issue was discussed at the of the next General Synod of the Church.
“I wish I had spoken with as much eloquence and clarity as the Pope. I completely agree with every word he said,” Welby said.
Recently, the Church of England decided to allow blessings for same-sex civil marriages, but said same-sex couples could not marry in its churches. The Vatican prohibits both same-sex marriage and blessings for same-sex unions.
Welby told reporters that the issue of criminalization had been addressed at two previous Lambeth conferences of the wider Anglican Communion, which includes churches in Africa and the Middle East where such anti-gay laws are most common and often enjoy the support of conservative bishops.
The wider Lambeth Conference has twice spoken out against criminalization, “But it hasn’t really changed a lot of people’s minds,” Welby said.
The Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields, the Church of Scotland Presbyterian Moderator who also participated in the pilgrimage and press conference, made an observation.
“There is nowhere in my reading of the four gospels where I see Jesus turning anyone away,” he said. “There is nowhere in the four gospels where I see anything other than Jesus expressing his love to anyone he meets.
“And as Christians, that’s the only expression we can give to any human being, in any circumstance.”
The Church of Scotland allows same-sex marriages. Catholic teaching maintains that homosexuals should be treated with dignity and respect, but that homosexual acts are “inherently disordered”.
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