Pope Francis made history Tuesday, becoming the first pope to speak out against laws criminalizing homosexuality.

He told The Associated Press that same-sex activity is a sin but not a crime and that, therefore, laws criminalizing homosexuality are “unjust.”

“It’s not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin,” he said. “Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime. ... It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

During the interview, Pope Francis urged Catholic bishops who have spoken out in support of laws that discriminate against the LGBTQ community to undergo a “process of conversion” and recognize all people’s dignity.

He added that that bishops should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us,” according to The Associated Press.

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Tuesday’s comments build on the pope’s past comments urging compassion toward members of the LGBTQ community. He has previously declined to condemn gay priests — saying “Who am I to judge?” about the issue in 2013 — and regularly taken part in ministry projects aimed at helping the LGBTQ community.

His new remarks “are consistent with his overall approach to the LGBTQ community and belief that the Catholic Church should welcome everyone and not discriminate,” The Associated Press reported.

Despite his welcoming approach, the LGBTQ community has mixed feelings about Pope Francis, the article noted. Many members have argued that the pope has not gone far enough to change the church’s message on homosexuality and advocate for same-sex couples.

Pope Francis pauses during an interview at the Vatican, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023.
Pope Francis pauses during an interview with The Associated Press at the Vatican, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. | Andrew Medichini, Associated Press

“Francis was criticized by the Catholic LGBTQ community for a 2021 decree from the Vatican’s doctrine office that said the church cannot bless same-sex unions,” The Associated Press reported.

The pope’s new comments on the issue come as he prepares to travel to Africa, where many countries criminalize homosexuality. He told The Associated Press that the Catholic Church must work to overturn such laws worldwide.

“We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity,” he said.