The pontiff’s comments actually signal something more disturbing.
Right off the bat, let’s be clear about one thing: Queerphobic and anti-LGBTQ+ laws are always unjust, especially when they’re rationalized using rhetoric pulled from religious extremism — which is why it’s especially heinous that Pope Francis, the literal leader of the Catholic Church, felt the need this week to speak out against “unjust” anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Don’t get it twisted, though — Pope Francis may not think homosexuality is criminal, but he still fully believes it’s a “sin.”
“Being homosexual is not a crime,” he told the Associated Press in a Jan. 24 interview. “It’s not a crime. Yes, it’s a sin. Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime,” he added, highlighting how the LGBTQ+ community should be welcomed into the Catholic Church. He also pointed out how many religious leaders in the church (namely, bishops) have not extended the same amount of grace in welcoming the queer community. “These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, urging that they have “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
While this growing acceptance — even understanding — of the LGBTQ+ community may seem like a huge step for the Catholic Church, it actually feels more like a signal toward how bad things have gotten from a political standpoint: Currently, 67 jurisdictions around the world have laws in place criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity, according to the Human Dignity Trust, an organization dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Almost a dozen of these laws can invoke the death penalty. In the United States alone, there are at least 185 bills aimed at chipping away at LGBTQ+ rights working their way through state legislatures, per the ACLU.
If the actual pope has to come out and say something about how badly state and national governments are treating their LGBTQ+ populations, it’s pretty clear things aren’t looking too good. In fact, this isn’t the first time Pope Francis has spoken out against the unjust treatment of the queer community. When questioned about whether or not there was a “gay lobby” in the Catholic Church in July 2013, he responded succinctly: “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized,” later adding, “The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem ... they're our brothers.”
So, while Pope Francis still believes homosexuality is a sin — and that is a problem — he at least doesn’t think queer people should be thrown in jail for, uh, literally just existing and being themselves. Thanks a lot, Mr. Pope, but at this point, the bar is in hell.