Pope Francis has reportedly called on religious leaders not to admit “hysterical queers” to seminaries. (Photo by Grzegorz Galazka/Archivio Grzegorz Galazka/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

How Does the Pope Really Feel About Gay Rights?

Francis has reportedly warned against the Catholic church’s widespread atmosphere of frociaggine—literally, faggotry.

Pope Francis issued an awkward apology Tuesday for using the term faggotry, but his apparent verbal slip is fueling speculation about his true beliefs toward homosexuality. 

In a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops on May 20 that was reported on Monday, Francis, 87, warned against the widespread atmosphere of frociaggine—literally faggotry—in the Catholic church, calling on religious leaders not to admit “hysterical queers” in seminaries, even those who are only “semi-oriented.” 

Matteo Bruni, the director of the Vatican press office, insisted that “The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and apologizes to those who felt offended by the use of a term. In the church there is room for everyone.”

However, far from a mistake by an elderly pontiff, the incident may well be part of a confusing yet consistent strategy. By signaling in the crudest terms his intention to stick with Catholic doctrine on sexuality, Pope Francis appeases church leaders who were taken aback when he opened up the possibility of blessings for same-sex couples in December. The doctrinal declaration Fiducia Supplicans sparked an irate reaction, especially from bishops in Africa, where the church is growing fastest. At the time, 11 African bishops issued a statement saying that blessing homosexual unions “would be in direct contradiction to the cultural ethos of African communities.”

One Italian bishop who attended the Vatican meeting on May 20 reportedly asked Pope Francis how to reconcile his warning against gays in the church and his new Fiducia Supplicans policy. “It’s just a blessing of not even twenty seconds that you don’t deny anyone,” the Pope replied, according to the Italian newspaper Il Foglio, downplaying its significance. 

It’s not the first time Pope Francis has engaged in smoke and mirrors to mask his true position. He once told Chilean bishops not to give Communion to pro-choice politicians, but afterward he said he had never refused to give Communion to anyone and even told Biden he was fine with him receiving it. He also reaffirmed the church should deny Communion to remarried people, but then signed an apostolic exhortation—Amoris Laetitia—that opened the door to this practice. And he suggested laymen may carry some duties reserved to priests, then walked the idea back.

"He is essentially a reactionary man who has realized that in order to please the world he must take progressive positions. Over time he has turned this wavering feature into a peculiar method of governance, based on contradiction and ambiguity," according to a former Vatican official

Faggotry is hardly a term that accidentally slips off the tongue, especially from someone who was hailed a hero by an LGBTQ+ journal. It suggests that Francis is engaging in the contradictory art of provoking and retracting, to make his real position elusive. The incident now pushes the pendulum away from gay rights, until the next time he’s caught making an off-the-cuff remark.

Mattia Ferraresi is the managing editor of the Italian newspaper Domani. Follow him on X @mattiaferraresi.

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