I am a gay priest. We need more than an apology for Pope Francis’ homophobic slur

gay priest

I am a gay priest who is publicly open about belonging to the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

As a gay man, I was shocked and saddened by the Holy Father’s reported use of an offensive slur during a discussion with Italian bishops.

While ostensibly justifying a policy of refusing to accept gay men into seminaries, the pope reportedly stated that there was too much “frociaggine” in seminaries.

Let’s be clear about the slur that was used so we also understand the controversy.

The word is an offensive term often employed in a pejorative/derogatory manner to refer to gay men, one vulgar enough not to be translated here.


In response, the Vatican stated that that the pope was aware of these reports.

While not directly confirming that the pontiff used the offensive word, the Vatican stated:

“The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologises to those who felt offended by the use of a term, as reported by others.”

I welcome the pope’s apology.

I am relieved that he did not intend any offense.

But any fair observer must conclude that this incident has severely compromised his historic outreach and unprecedented openness to members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

Intent vs. impact

To understand the magnitude of the pope’s use of the slur, we must make a distinction between the intent and the impact of his words.

Some seek to downplay all of this as only a matter of an unfortunate choice of words or a careless use of colloquial language.

Others view this as nothing more than an elderly man’s imprecise grasp of a language that is not his native tongue.

But others point out that the pope has been speaking Italian since his childhood.

All of this may be true.

But regardless of the speaker’s intent, such language is dehumanising.

Slurs and offensive names are perhaps too easily dismissed by those who are not their targets.

But make no mistake: Derogatory slurs dehumanise sexual minorities.

They call our humanity into question.

Moreover, the harm goes beyond those who were directly offended by the pope’s homophobic slur.

The pope’s use of such language gives support to public policies that endanger the lives of sexual minorities around the world.

Those who seek to exclude gay, lesbian and trans people from social life and juridical protection can – and will – take comfort and solace from the Holy Father’s words.

Infinite dignity

Yes, I know that Pope Francis has called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Yet his use of offensive terminology cannot but undercut his message that all possess an “infinite dignity” that should be respected by all. More than an apology is needed. Read more

  • Bryan Massingale is a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University in New York. He is the author of Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010).
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