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Pope Francis condemned the criminalization of homosexuality and urged church bishops to have a change of heart on the issue.

In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press, Francis called laws that criminalize homosexuality “unjust,” saying that God loves all of his children. The head of the Roman Catholic Church said bishops in countries that have laws against homosexuality need to undergo a process of conversion. 

“Being homosexual isn’t a crime,” said Francis. “These bishops have to have a process of conversion.”

The bishops, Francis said, should apply “tenderness” in their conversion process and aid the church in bringing about an end to the laws. 

“It must do this,” he said. 

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 67 countries have laws criminalizing same-sex relations between consenting adults. Of the 67 countries, 19 apply the laws specifically to men. 

In the United States, more than a dozen states still have laws on the books against sodomy despite a 2003 Supreme Court ruling (Lawrence v. Texas) declaring them unconstitutional. 

In the AP interview, Francis spoke about homosexuality in the context of “sin,” keeping with a consistent theme during his Vatican rule of welcoming and not marginalizing LGBT people.

A native of Argentina, Francis, 86, became Pope in March of 2013, taking over for Benedict XVI, a German archconservative, who resigned from the position and died in December at the age of 95.


Column: The Vatican's Gorbachev