Pope Francis reportedly used an offensive term while opposing homosexual men entering training colleges for priests
Pope Francis reportedly used an offensive term while opposing homosexual men entering training colleges for priests AFP News

Pope Francis issued an extraordinary apology on Tuesday over his reported use of a gay slur in a closed-door meeting with Italian bishops last week.

"The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms and he extends his apologies to those who felt offended by the use of a term, reported by others," the Vatican said in a statement.

During a meeting with more than 250 bishops last week, the 87-year-old pontiff was said to have used an offensive term while expressing his opposition to homosexual men entering training colleges for priests, even if they committed to celibacy.

According to two Italian newspapers, Francis said there was already too much "frociaggine" in seminaries, using an offensive Roman term that translates as "faggotry".

The reports made headlines around the world, with commentators noting an apparent discrepancy between the pope's words and his previously welcoming approach to LGBTQ people.

In 2013, just weeks after taking office, he said that "if someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?"

There was some speculation after the reports emerged Monday that Francis, the son of an Italian emigrant to Argentina and whose first language is Spanish, did not understand the negative connotations of the word he was using.

The Vatican statement did not confirm that he used the word but referred to newspaper articles.

"As he had the opportunity to state on several occasions: 'In the Church there is room for everyone, everyone! Nobody is useless, nobody is superfluous, there is space for everyone. Just as we are, all of us'," the statement said.

Francis, a former archbishop of Buenos Aires who relishes being among his flock and cultivates an image of a down-to-earth leader, has a history of speaking bluntly.

Off-the-cuff remarks include saying Catholics need not "breed like rabbits". He also seemingly defended the use of violence to defend one's faith, saying in 2015 that "if a good friend speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched".

At a meeting with Catholic families in Verona this month, Francis told a joke about a grumpy shopkeeper, pausing halfway through the punchline so it sounded like it would end with a swear word, before correcting himself with a cheeky laugh.

But Francis DeBernardo, head of US LGBTQ Catholic group New Ways Ministry, had told AFP ahead of the Vatican statement that he would welcome an apology from the pope.

"Pope Francis has not always been clear in his remarks about LGBTQ+ people," he said.

"We hope this incident will encourage him to learn more about the language he uses, and about how misuse can be dangerously harmful."

In Rome on Tuesday, some visitors also expressed dismay at the words used by such an important spiritual leader.

"I'm shocked. Religion is about uniting... to bring people together," said Caterina Constantinava, a tourist visiting from London.

Her daughter, Alexandria, 14, added: "As a person who has such high power, he doesn't need to go around using foul language.

"He can just simply say 'I disagree with this', he doesn't need to use such language, it's just disrespectful," she said.