Pope Francis apologizes over use of gay slur, Vatican says

VATICAN CITY − Pope Francis used a highly derogatory term towards the LGBT community as he reiterated in a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops that gay people should not be allowed to become priests, Italian media reported Monday.

La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest circulation dailies, both quoted the pope as using an Italian vulgarity when saying the country's seminaries, or priesthood colleges, were already full of homosexuals.

Francis apologized on Tuesday. "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 reported by others," Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in an emailed statement.

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La Repubblica attributed its story to several unspecified sources, while Corriere said it was backed up by a few, unnamed bishops, who suggested the pope, as an Argentine, might have not realised that the Italian term he used was offensive.

Political gossip website Dagospia was the first to report on the alleged incident, said to have happened on May 20, when the Italian Bishops Conference opened a four-day assembly with a nonpublic meeting with the pontiff.

Francis, who is 87, has so far been credited with leading the Roman Catholic Church into taking a more welcoming approach towards the LGBT community.

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In 2013, at the start of his papacy, he famously said, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" while last year he allowed priests to bless members of same-sex couples, triggering substantial conservative backlash.

Nevertheless, he delivered a similar message on gay seminarians − minus the reported swear word − when he met Italian bishops in 2018, telling them to carefully vet priesthood applicants and reject anyone suspected of being gay.

In a 2005 document, released under Francis' late predecessor Benedict XVI, the Vatican said the Church could admit into the priesthood those who had clearly overcome homosexual tendencies for at least three years.

The document said those practicing homosexuality and those with "deep-seated" gay tendencies and those who "support the so-called gay culture" should be barred.

On Tuesday, the Vatican spokesman reiterated that the pope remained committed to a welcoming Church for all, where "nobody is useless, nobody is superfluous, (where) there is room for everyone."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pope Francis sorry for using an Italian slur for gay people