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Pope Francis recently issued an apology for using a derogatory term referring to gay men during a closed-door discussion among bishops. Director of the Vatican press office Matteo Bruni said, “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.” During the meeting with Italian bishops at the Vatican, there was a discussion of whether to admit gay men to Catholic seminaries in preparation for the priesthood.

Italian media reported that multiple people present at the meeting disclosed that Francis opposed the idea, saying there was already too much “frociaggine” in seminaries. Frociaggine is a highly offensive slang term in Italian, referring to gay men and gay male culture. The controversy is the latest in a series of moves that many LGBTQ Catholics view as sending mixed messages. Earlier this year, the Vatican issued a document titled Infinite Dignity, referring to what it called “sex change” and “gender theory” as grave threats. But late last year, Pope Francis issued guidance that allowed priests to bless people in same-sex relationships, although not to bless the relationship itself.

The Catholic Church’s official teaching on the matter is that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered and that sexual activity between people of the same sex is a grave sin. Still, Bruni said, “As [Francis] has stated on many occasions, ‘There is room for everyone in the Church.’ ” The LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity USA says it’s shocked and saddened by Francis’s original comments.
“My stomach just dropped,” says Dignity executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke, “It was so disheartening,” Duddy-Burke says she’s glad Francis apologized but that an apology doesn’t remove the sting of hearing that this pope used that term. She says the incident points to a bigger problem within Catholicism itself.

She says, “The people of the church and the leadership of the church have a chasm between our beliefs.” As a consequence of that divide, she calls it the “river of people” who’ve left the church in recent decades. Polling suggests Duddy-Burke’s analysis is correct. Pew Research found earlier this year that a majority of Catholics believe the church should perform same-sex marriages. Another poll from the Public Religion Research Institute found that one of the big reasons people say they leave their religion is due to negative teachings about LGBTQ people.

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