Pope Francis has made news before for speaking in favor of policies and practices more liberal than previous popes have supported, and one of the main ways he's shaken up the Catholic Church is by speaking in support of the gay community. On Sunday, June 26, Francis made headlines for stating that the Church should apologize to the gay community for acts of discrimination. Though Francis hasn't altered official Church messaging and positions on gay rights, his tone and counsel to fellow practitioners concerning gay individuals consistently admonishes faith-based discrimination.
Francis added to his history of comments, telling reporters on Sunday that gay people "should not be discriminated against." Insofar as the Church has participated in such discrimination, he stated: "We Christians have to apologize for so many things, not just for this [treatment of gays], but we must ask for forgiveness, not just apologize. Forgiveness — Lord, it is a word we forget so often."
Time reported on Francis' statements and actions regarding the gay community since his assumption of the papacy in 2013. The pope has suggested that God doesn't condemn gay people for their sexual orientation and expressed openness to same-sex civil unions, while maintaining disapproval of same-sex marriage. Throughout 2015, Francis had several meetings with LGBT groups and individuals around the world.
Francis has not officially altered the Church's stance that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and that gay people should resist having sex with people of their same gender. Instead, he's appealing to fellow priests, church leaders, and Christians not to discriminate against the LGBT community and to treat people with compassion, though not necessarily making a case contrary to the Church's negative view toward homosexuality.
With his statement that the Church should ask forgiveness, Francis is making the significant acknowledgment that the Church has wrongly discriminated against the gay community. His more accepting approach to diverse sexualities and family compositions is a sign of progress as people are still being discriminated against in employment at churches and in Catholic schools for their orientation.
Whether the pope's tone shift leads to a mentality shift — the idea that the Church has been thinking and not just doing wrongly by the gay community — is the larger question. But if the pope's gentler stance has the effect of at least attenuating the negative view of homosexuality entrenched within the Church and of curbing active discrimination that some seek to justify with their faith, it'll be a step in the right direction.