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Pope Francis apologises after outcry over homophobic slur

Pope Francis has apologised after an outcry erupted over his use of a deeply offensive slur for gay people during a closed-door discussion with bishops.

The Vatican issued a statement on Tuesday acknowledging the media storm that erupted about Francis’ homophobic comment, which he was quoted as making to reaffirm the Catholic Church’s ban on gay priests.

“The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he extends his apologies to those who were offended by the use of a term that was reported by others,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The apology follows a closed-door meeting on 20 May at an Italian bishops’ conference in Rome, where one of the topics being discussed was whether to allow celibate gay men to undergo training for priesthood at Catholic seminaries.

The 87-year-old pope is said to have spoken against the idea, saying that while it was important to embrace everyone, it could risk the queer person leading a double life.

He was then reported as joking that there was already too much frociaggine in some seminaries, an offensive Italian slur that roughly translates to “f*****ness” or buggery.

Francis’ use of the highly derogatory word was first reported on Monday by Italian tabloid news website Dasgopia but has since been reported by other outlets – including authoritative Italian dailies La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera and the news agency Adnkronos, which quoted their own unnamed sources among bishops present at the meeting.

Mr Bruni said Francis was aware of the reports and recalled that the pope has long insisted there was “room for everyone” in the Catholic Church. He has made outreach to LGBTQ+ Catholics a hallmark of his papacy, starting from his famous “Who am I to judge” comment in 2013 about a priest who purportedly had a gay lover in his past.

Italian is not Francis’ mother tongue language, and the Argentine pope has made linguistic gaffes in the past that raised eyebrows. He often speaks informally, jokes using slang and even curses in private.

Francis was addressing an assembly of the Italian bishops conference, which recently approved a new document outlining training for Italian seminarians. The document, which hasn’t been published pending review by the Holy See, reportedly sought to open some wiggle room in the Vatican’s absolute ban on gay priests.

The Vatican ban was articulated in a 2005 document from the Congregation for Catholic Education, and later repeated in a subsequent document in 2016, which said the church cannot admit to seminaries or ordain men who “practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture”.

Francis strongly reaffirmed that position in his May 20 meeting with the Italian bishops.

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