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Pope Francis Apologizes for Using ‘F—’ Slur During Private Discussion on Gay Priests

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Pope Francis apologized on Tuesday after he reportedly used a homophobic slur while reiterating his opposition to gay people becoming priests during a private discussion on the matter with bishops last week.

“There is already too much…” in seminaries, Francis has been quoted as saying, using an Italian word that roughly translates to “f-ggotry.”

The remark, said to have been made during a closed-door meeting last Monday, was first reported by Italian news and gossip site Dagospia and then affirmed by Italian newspapers la Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, which each cited unnamed firsthand sources.

“The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologizes to those who felt offended by the use of a term, as reported by others,” said Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office, in a statement on Tuesday.

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Corriere reported that the remark was received with incredulous laughter by the bishops in attendance and that, given the 87-year-old Argentinian pontiff’s native language is Spanish, “it was evident that the Pope was not aware of how offensive the word is in Italian.”

Catholic magazine America similarly reported that Francis’ use of the derogatory word was a “gaffe” rather than an intentional slur, “given the pope’s ‘Who am I to judge?’ attitude toward gay priests.”

Francis was named TIME’s 2013 Person of the Year after uttering those landmark five words 11 years ago that seemed at the time to herald a new era of acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ people by the Catholic Church. Late last year, Francis gave his approval for priests to bless same-sex couples, and in February, he said he saw “hypocrisy” in those who criticized that decision.

But when it comes to gay people joining the priesthood, Francis has continued to back the Vatican’s official policy, approved by his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’”

In 2018, during a similar closed-door meeting with Italian bishops, Francis reportedly warned that applicants to the priesthood should be vetted carefully and that anyone suspected of being homosexual should be rejected. “If in doubt, better not let them enter,” he was quoted as saying.

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According to Corriere, an assembly of bishops last November approved a potential reform, which yet required the pontiff’s approval to be implemented, that would distinguish between “simple homosexual orientation” and “deeply rooted tendencies”—and would permit the admission of people in the former category to seminaries so long as they could commit, like all seminarians, to a life of strict celibacy.

When asked about this hypothetical approach, Francis reportedly “responded in a firmly negative way,” according to la Repubblica, which noted that he also emphasized respect is still owed to every person regardless of their sexual orientation.

Francis explained, la Repubblica reported, as translated by America, “it is necessary to put down markers, and prevent the risk that the gay person who chooses the priesthood could later end up living a double-life, continuing to practice homosexuality, while at the same time suffering from this dissimulation,” before he made what seemed to be meant as a “joke” about Italian seminaries.

Bruni’s statement on Tuesday added: “As [Pope Francis] has stated on many occasions, ‘There is room for everyone in the Church, for everyone! No one is useless; no one is superfluous; there is room for everyone. Just as we are, everyone.’”

—Solcyré Burga contributed reporting.

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