Christian leaders including Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury denounce anti-gay laws in unprecedented airborne news conference
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Christian leaders including the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury have denounced anti-gay laws and called for greater LGBT acceptance within the church.
Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the foremost Presbyterian minister in Scotland spoke at an unprecedented airborne press conference.
The three Christian leaders were returning home from South Sudan, where they took part in a three-day ecumenical pilgrimage to try to nudge the young country’s peace process forward.
They were asked about Francis’s recent comments in which he declared that laws that criminalise gay people were ‘unjust’ and that ‘being homosexual is not a crime’.
South Sudan is one of 67 countries that criminalises homosexuality. In 11 countries, people can be sentenced to the death penalty for being part of the LGBT community.
Pope Francis repeated previous comments that parents should never throw their gay children out of the house in the airborne press conference
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, said he would echo the Pope at an upcoming General Synod
Rt Rev Iain Greenshields said he did not see Jesus turn anyone away in the Bible and implied that the Church should follow his example
LGBTQ advocates say even where such laws are not applied, they contribute to a climate of harassment, discrimination and violence.
Pope Francis referred his January 24 comments and repeated that such laws are ‘unjust’.
He also repeated previous comments that parents should never throw their gay children out of the house.
Read more: Pope says people who criminalise same-sex acts are wrong
The pope has regularly ruffled feathers with his modern theological views since becoming the Bishop of Rome in 2013
‘To condemn someone like this is a sin,’ Francis said.
‘Criminalising people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice.’
He added: ‘People with homosexual tendencies are children of God. God loves them. God accompanies them.’
The pope also accused some of his vocal critics of using the late Pope Benedict XVI’s death to score ideological points.
In the days and weeks after his death, Benedict’s longtime secretary and some conservative cardinals came out with books, interviews and memos criticising Francis’ papacy.
The commentary had the effect of pitting the recently departed former pope, who remained a point of reference for conservatives and traditionalists, against the current pope.
Francis insisted that rumours of differences with Benedict, or that Benedict was bitter about some decisions he had taken, were false and that the two consulted frequently and were in agreement.
‘I think Benedict’s death was instrumentalised. People wanted to score points for their own side.
‘And the people who instrumentalise such a good person, so close to God, I would almost say … those people don’t have ethics, they are people who belong to a party, not to the church.’
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said LGBTQ rights were very much on the current agenda of the Church of England and committed to quoting the pope’s own words when the issue is discussed at the church’s upcoming General Synod.
‘I wish I had spoken as eloquently and clearly as the pope. I entirely agree with every word he said,’ Mr Welby said.
Recently, the Church of England decided to allow blessings for same-sex civil marriages but said same-sex couples could not marry in its churches.
The Vatican forbids both gay marriage and blessings for same-sex unions.
Mr Welby told reporters that the issue of criminalisation had been taken up at two previous Lambeth Conferences of the broader Anglican Communion, which includes churches in Africa and the Middle East where such anti-gay laws are most common and often enjoy support from conservative bishops.
The pope also addressed rumours that there had been tension between him and the late Pope Benedict XVI, denying that there was a rift between the pontiffs
The church leaders used their flight from Juba to Rome on Sunday to brief the press on their stance on LGBT rights
The broader Lambeth Conference has come out twice opposing criminalisation, ‘but it has not really changed many people’s minds’, Mr Welby said.
The Rt Rev Iain Greenshields, the Presbyterian moderator of the Church of Scotland, offered further observations.
‘There is nowhere in my reading of the four Gospels where I see Jesus turning anyone away,’ he said.
‘There is nowhere in the four Gospels where I see anything other than Jesus expressing love to whomever he meets,’ the reverend explained.
‘And as Christians, that is the only expression that we can possibly give to any human being, in any circumstance.’
The Church of Scotland allows same-sex marriages.
Catholic teaching currently holds that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect, but that homosexual acts are ‘intrinsically disordered’.
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