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(New York) – Pope Francis should condemn violence and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Holy See. The pope should ensure that Catholic officials act in accordance with church teachings.

In its teachings as well as in public statements at the United Nations General Assembly, the Holy See has voiced the need to protect everyone’s human dignity. But too often Catholic Church officials around the world contradict these stated principles in speech and practice, Human Rights Watch said. 

“It is encouraging to see Pope Francis taking a public stance against discrimination and violence and calling for a more inclusive church,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “What we ask is that Catholic Church officials adhere to church teachings and stand against violence and discrimination, including the bishops, who often wield considerable influence.”

Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the Holy See’s message is not always consistently conveyed to local religious communities around the world. Human Rights Watch cited instances from across the globe in which church officials have supported draconian and discriminatory legislation against LGBT people, contributing to a climate of impunity for violence and abuse against people in sexual and gender minorities.

In Cameroon, for example, Archbishop Samuel Kléda and other Catholic leaders have endorsed unjust criminal penalties against people in sexual and gender minorities, while failing to denounce the violence these vulnerable populations routinely face.

“Officials of the Catholic Church have given tacit or explicit support for discriminatory laws and practices against LGBT people,” Reid said. “Pope Francis has a unique opportunity to change that.”

Human Rights Watch also cited instances in which bishops have acted in accordance with the church’s stated position of nonviolence and nondiscrimination and of everyone’s inherent dignity and worth.

The Holy See occupies a unique position as a sovereign state with observer status at the United Nations and as the governing body of a major world religion. The Pope is the head of both the Catholic Church and a sovereign state. The church thus wields considerable influence in the religious sphere but also in the secular realm. 

Human Rights Watch acknowledged the moderated stance Pope Francis has taken, his willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue, and his stated commitment to ensuring everyone’s fundamental freedoms and human dignity.

Human Rights Watch called on Pope Francis to:

  • Publicly condemn violence against people in sexual and gender minorities
  • Call for the decriminalization of consensual, sexual relationships and support the repeal of other unjust criminal penalties for people in sexual and gender minorities
  • Emphasize his opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances
  • Moderate the tone of the church’s public discourse on sexuality
  • Call for greater legal protections for people in sexual and gender minorities

“Pope Francis should use his position as head of church and head of state to ensure that church officials throughout the world act in accordance with the basic tenets of the Catholic Church for treatment of people in sexual and gender minorities,” Reid said. “He should call for respect for human dignity, and an end to violence and discrimination.”

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