Pope Francis has explained his recent comments on homosexuality and sin, stating it is not a sin to be gay and that he was simply referring to the Catholic teaching that all sex outside marriage is a sin. 

The Pope said in an interview with the Associated Press last week that homosexuality is not a crime, "but it is a sin."

"Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime. It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another," Pope Francis told the AP. 

Pope Francis criticized laws that criminalize homosexuality as “unjust,” saying God loves all his children just as they are. The pontiff called on Catholic bishops who support the laws to welcome LGBTQ people into the church. #TheAPInterview pic.twitter.com/0x7ouUarAQ

— The Associated Press (@AP) January 25, 2023

American Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin penned a letter to Pope Francis asking him to clarify his comments.

"There seems to have been some confusion about your comment, 'Being gay is a sin,’ which, of course, is not part of church teaching," Fr. Martin wrote in a letter to the Pope. 

"As ever, Pope Francis is siding with life, with human dignity and with the belief that all of us are created in the image and likeness of God. As he said today, 'We are all children of God and God loves us as we are.'" https://t.co/QLSfYOiToc

— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) January 26, 2023

The Pope responded to Fr. Martin, stating that he was referring to the Church's teaching that all sex outside marriage is a sin. 

"When I said it is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin (the Pope's italics). Of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault. As you can see, I was repeating something in general." 

Pope Francis also said he should have said "it is a sin, as is any sexual act outside marriage" during his interview with the Associated Press. 

The Pope was speaking ahead of a six-day visit to the Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. There is no legal recognition of same-sex couples in the Republic of the Congo, while it is illegal to be gay in South Sudan. 

The Pope told the Associated Press that any law that criminalizes homosexuality is "unjust" and said the Catholic Church should work to end such laws. 

"It must do this. It must do this. We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity." 

Pope Francis also acknowledged that there are Catholic bishops who support the criminalization of homosexuality and said such bishops would have to change to recognize people's dignity. 

"These bishops have to have a process of conversion," he said. 

In his response to Fr. Martin, Pope Francis said he will tell anyone who wants to criminalize homosexuality "that they are wrong."