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Pope Francis, in a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, spoke at length about his health, his critics and the future of the papacy. Most notably, he called laws criminalizing homosexuality fundamentally unjust and said being homosexual is not a crime. Paul Elie of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs joined Geoff Bennett to discuss the pope's interview.
Pope Francis, in a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, spoke at length about his health, his critics and the future of the papacy.
Most notably, he called laws criminalizing homosexuality fundamentally unjust, making clear that, in the mind of the leader of the Catholic Church, being homosexual is not a crime.
Pope Francis, Leader of Catholic Church (through translator): We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are, and for the strength with which we fight for our dignity. Being homosexual is not a crime. It is not a crime, but it is a sin.
And, well, we first have to distinguish a sin from a crime, but a sin is also the lack of charity with one another.
For more, we're joined by Paul Elie, senior fellow with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University. He's also a contributing writer for "The New Yorker."
Thanks for being with us.
And how should we understand the pope's remarks that being homosexual is not a crime, even as he stands by Catholic teaching, which says that homosexual acts are — quote — "intrinsically disordered" and a sin? How is the pope distinguishing between the two?
Paul Elie, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs: Well, Pope Francis across 10 years has tried to make a distinction between church doctrine or church teaching and the pastoral activities of people right up to the pope, dealing with ordinary people.
And one of the most difficult challenges that he's faced in doing this has to do with homosexuality. So, he's again and again tried to emphasize the pastoral dimension, the actual role of clerics right up to the pope in dealing with homosexuality and gay people, and the issues that are raised.
And he's tried to do it incrementally, often through interviews.
How significant a moment is this for the Catholic Church?
I think it's easy to overestimate the significance of any one moment.
As I said, he's an incrementalist. And he's used this approach a number of times addressing civil unions, addressing laws against gay people, addressing discrimination. And the effect in aggregate is a substantial change in tone and attitude when it comes to the church's approach to gay people.
The pope is set to visit South Sudan, one of the roughly 67 countries around the world that criminalizes homosexuality.
Here in this country, there are roughly a dozen states that still have anti-sodomy laws on the books. How might the pope's remarks influence policy?
It's hard to know, or it's hard to say in a general way, when there are 67 different countries involved.
But there's no question that the countries that have legislated against homosexuality, in doing so, have drawn on public knowledge that institutions such as the Catholic Church have stood behind such legislation historically, and many of them still do currently.
Does this bring the church any closer to acknowledging members of the LGBTQ community as practicing Catholics who can receive sacraments like marriage?
I think it does.
We don't know the future. And it may be that the efforts of Pope Francis undertaken over 10 years will be rolled back by the next pope. But I don't think so. I think that the church is changing, and what Pope Francis has done is both an expression of that change and is helping to bring it about.
And, yes, I think the church is moving, if very, very gradually and even timidly, in that direction.
In that same interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis spoke about the criticism he's received from conservative cardinals and bishops.
And he acknowledged — he said, it's unpleasant. He said, it's like a rash that bothers you a bit.
Tell us more about that, the criticism he's faced from traditionalists for prioritizing social justice issues like poverty, migration, the environment.
Certainly, he's faced criticism for his positions on the issues.
But I would say that the criticism that's coming at Pope Francis from traditionalists is more deeply rooted than that. What they especially don't like about his approach is that he, in effect, is living the way that most Catholics are, which is in a kind of uncertainty, trying to find a satisfactory, sensible way to live between doctrines, many of which were written long ago in the past, and the way our lives are unfolding today.
How has he set the tone for a different kind of papacy?
Wow, I think in so many ways, the stress on mercy, rather than judgment, the determination that the church should go to the margins, and that's at its central part of its experience, even his willingness to give interviews like the one that he gave Nicole Winfield from the AP today.
He's used casual conversations, speaking freely as a way to communicate. And previous popes just haven't done it either so extensively or quite so casually.
Paul Elie, senior fellow with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown University, thanks so much for your time and for your insights.
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Geoff Bennett serves as co-anchor of PBS NewsHour. He also serves as an NBC News and MSNBC political contributor.
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