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Pope Francis issued an apology for using a slur referring to gay men

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Pope Francis has apologized for using a slur to refer to gay men during a private meeting with Italian bishops.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In that meeting, church leaders were discussing whether they should admit gay men to Catholic seminaries in preparation for the priesthood. The apology came after Italian media reported on the pope's use of the word.

FADEL: Joining us to discuss the pope's apology and what led to it is NPR's religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Good morning, Jason.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what do we know about what the pope actually said that started all this controversy?

DEROSE: Well, according to Italian media, who spoke with multiple bishops present during this Vatican meeting, Pope Francis said that gay men should not be admitted to seminary. And then Francis used a highly offensive term, the one that begins with an F in both Italian and English, to refer to gay men and gay male culture. Francis said there was too much of that in seminaries already.

FADEL: So after his remarks went public, Francis offered an apology. What did he say?

DEROSE: Well, the pope's apology came through Matteo Bruni, the director of the Vatican's press office. Bruni said, quote, "the pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologizes to those who felt offended by the use of the term." And Bruni pointed out that Francis has repeatedly said, quote, "there is room for everyone in the church."

FADEL: OK, what are LGBTQ Catholics saying about both the use of the slur and the apology?

DEROSE: Well, DignityUSA, which is one of the main LGBTQ Catholic groups here in the U.S., says it's shocked and saddened by Francis' use of the derogatory term. Executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke says the church is sending mixed messages. As an example of that, she points to two realities. Late last year, the pope allowed priests to bless people in same-sex relationships, but the church also continues to teach that homosexuality is disordered and that same-sex sexual activity is a sin.

MARIANNE DUDDY-BURKE: It both wants to make LGBTQ people and our families feel welcome and supported on a pastoral level, and it persists in supporting these teachings that say we are somehow less than fully compliant with God's plan for humanity.

DEROSE: But Duddy-Burke says she's glad that Francis at least apologized for using the slur, even though it still stings that he used it in the first place. She says one of the reasons people are leaving the Catholic Church is its anti-LGBTQ teachings.

FADEL: Now, Jason, there's been a lot of talk about how Francis has tried to change the tone around LGBTQ issues within the Catholic Church. How true is that?

DEROSE: Well, many people say the tone may have changed, but the teachings of the church have not. Remember, early in his papacy, when asked about gay couples, he famously said, who am I to judge? And as I mentioned, Leila, the church now allows priests to bless people in same-sex relationships. It's also said priests can baptize transgender people who wish to join the Catholic Church. But earlier this year, the Vatican issued a document titled Infinite Dignity, referring to what it called sex change and gender theory as grave threats. Some said that that document would have been better called Limited Dignity when it comes to LGBTQ people.

FADEL: That's NPR's religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Thank you, Jason.

DEROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.