25 April 2019, The Tablet

Francis condemns anti-LGBT bias in meeting with pilgrims

Francis condemns anti-LGBT bias in meeting with pilgrims

Pope Francis has told a group of celebrity pilgrims who walked to Rome from the Alps for a BBC Easter documentary that anyone who “discards” a gay person “doesn’t have a human heart”.

His remarks came during a private audience with the eight UK celebrities, including actor Les Dennis, comedian Katy Brand and Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford, that marked the end of their 1,000 km walk along a section of the ancient Via Francigena pilgrim route.

During the audience, broadcast in the final episode of Pilgrimage: The Road To Rome on BBC2 on Good Friday, British comedian Stephen K. Amos told Pope Francis that, as a gay man, he didn’t feel accepted by the Church.

In response Pope Francis said: “Giving more importance to the adjective [gay] rather than the noun [man], this is not good. We are all human beings and have dignity. It does not matter who you are, or how you live your life – you do not lose your dignity.” He went on: “There are people that prefer to select or discard people because of the adjective. These people don’t have a human heart.” His comments were welcomed by LGBT Catholics and their supporters.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a ministry for justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the Church, said the remarks showed Francis prioritised the Church’s social justice tradition over the sexual ethics tradition.

“This is an important shift because while many church leaders, especially in the US, often mention both traditions in their comments about LGBT issues, the social justice tradition is often given short shrift in comparison to the sexual ethics tradition, and often appears to be regarded as secondary, not primary, as the Pope made it in this comment,” Mr DeBernardo said. “This shift will have great impact, as it is the way so many lay Catholics, but not leaders, view LGBT issues.”

Mr Amos, who was shown wiping away tears after the Pope finished speaking, described Francis as one of the most progressive popes in history. “Let’s just say it was a moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life,” he added.

Irish Eurovision Song Contest winner Dana, the only practising Catholic in the group, told Pope Francis: “At this difficult time for our Church, we long for truth and we know it is very difficult and we pray for you each day.” The Pope replied: “You pray for me… I need it. This job is not easy.” He asked the non-religious celebrities to wish him a good journey, “so I do not let anyone down”.

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