26 September 2023

Misleading: Pope Francis did not call for universal legalization of homosexuality

The Pope condemns laws that criminalized gays, saying same-sex activity is a sin but not a crime.

A tweet on July 26 shared a 30-second interview video claiming Pope Francis was calling for universal legalization of homosexuality. The user commented that it was “an ironic statement contradicting to what Catholics and Christians preached.”

“The Pope said homosexuality ‘should be’ legalized around the world. This came straight from the Pope’s mouth,” the user wrote in simplified Chinese.

The same video with similar claims have been shared earlier this year in multiple languages including English, Arabic, and Italian on Twitter, YouTube and Wisgoon, an Arabic social media platform. But they are still gaining traction and have amassed tens of thousands of engagements.

However, the claims are misleading. While the head of the Roman Catholic Church reportedly said homosexuality was not a crime and criticized clergies who supported laws that criminalized LGBTQ people, he did not call for the worldwide legalization of homosexuality.

Image search of the tweeted video led to the same 30-second clip posted to British broadcaster Channel 4 News’ YouTube portal on Jan. 25. This video comes with a similar headline to the misleading tweets that read, “Pope: Being gay ‘must’ be made legal worldwide,” as well as a caption: “Pope Francis calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality globally adding the Church ‘must’ help to abolish these laws.”

Comparison of the Channel 4 News YouTube clip (left) matched with that of the exclusive interview conducted by AP (right) with Pope Francis.

Annie Lab traced the YouTube video to a longer original video published on the same day by the Associated Press.

The AP’s exclusive interview was conducted in Spanish in the Vatican hotel where Pope Francis lives on Jan. 24 and circulated to media outlets across the world.

It appears that Channel 4 News had taken the AP interview with the Pope out of context with a misleading headline that was widely shared on social media platforms.

Screenshots of the AP interview conducted on Jan. 24, 2023 at Vatican City.

His comments condemned laws that criminalized or discriminated against gays as “unjust” and the Catholic Church should work to put an end to them. Pope Francis also told AP that Catholic bishops who supported these laws should welcome LGBTQ people into the church.

“[Being gay] is not a crime. ‘Yes, but it’s a sin.’ Well, yes, but let’s make the distinction between sin and crime,” said Francis, while bantering with himself during the interview with AP.

“It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another,” he added.

However, the pope did not say countries around the world “must” legalize homosexuality, according to the AP interview transcript.

Our research shows his January comments were consistent with his previous remarks about the LGBTQ community. As far as we can tell, he has never mentioned universal legalization of homosexuality.

Three days after the interview, Vatican News, the official news portal of the Holy See, published a clarification on the interview with AP.

“I would tell whoever wants to criminalize homosexuality that they are wrong,” he said, according to Vatican News.

According to Human Dignity Trust, 66 countries or jurisdictions worldwide criminalize private consensual same-sex sexual activity and 12 of them could lead to death penalty.